Roy Glashan's Library
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An RGL First Edition©
The story of a strange disappearance. Involving the overthrow
of many ingenious theories and an odd happening in photography.
MR. EDWARD FARTHINGALE, acclaimed despite his youth—for he was only thirty nine years old—as the world's foremost authority upon the occult lore of the Orient, suddenly and unaccountably disappeared on the very eve of his marriage to Miss Marjorie Grantham.
He had spent the evening at the home of his fiance on upper Fifth Avenue, and, leaving at an early hour, had strolled across the park to his apartments on West Fifty Seventh Street.
A policeman at the Columbus Circle on Eighth Avenue recalled having observed a man of the doctor's description pass by about ten o'clock, and believed he had been closely followed by two dark, foreign-looking fellows.
On the latter point, however, the officer explained that his memory was not positive. A great many people passed his post at that hour in the evening, and it was possible that he might have confused two incidents.
George Washington, a hall boy at the Omar Khayyam, the apartment house where Farthingale maintained his bachelor quarters, had a distinct recollection of the scientist's home coming.
He stated that on entering the door the doctor had glanced at the clock and had evinced some surprise on discovering that it was only a quarter after ten.
"I supposed I had spent more time than that in walking over," he had remarked.
Then he had taken the elevator and gone up to his rooms.
Washington added that he had remained on duty all night, and was certain that Dr. Farthingale had not again left the building.
The only other person known to have seen the missing man that evening was Kumar Sabhu, the doctor's East Indian valet; and his statement was equally barren of results in the way of any explanation of the puzzling affair.
In his account, however, there was one point at marked variance with the story of the hall boy, and that was in relation to time. For the valet asserted that Farthingale had not returned home until well after eleven o'clock.
Asked if be had observed anything peculiar in either the manner or appearance of his master, Kumar replied that he had not, except for a slight asperity of speech towards himself, and that was not unusual with the sahib when his mind was preoccupied.
On his arrival, the valet continued. Farthingale had simply informed him that his service would be required no more that night, and then retiring into his own apartment had locked his door.
He himself had occupied the outer room, and although he was an extremely light sleeper had heard no suspicious sounds during the night, and was confident that no one had passed through the chamber where he lay.
In fact, his first intimation that anything out of the ordinary had occurred was gained the following morning when he went to arouse his employer and could obtain no response to his repeated knockings.
Overcome with alarm, he had then summoned the police and had the door broken open. The room was found empty, and the bed untouched.
Policeman Casey, who had been brought from the corner to break open the door, corroborated the valet's account of the condition of the room. The only thing which had struck him as suspicious was Kumar's certainty as to what they should find.
Before the door was even touched the Hindoo had announced with wails and groanings that he knew his master was not within, and that beyond question they would find the room unoccupied.
Kumar readily explained his words, however, by declaring that he had merely expressed in oriental metaphor his fear that his master's spirit had fled, and Casey acknowledged that Kumar had seemed as genuinely surprised as any one else when they actually found the room untenanted.
This seemed all the information obtainable; so an announcement of sudden illness on the part of the bridegroom was given out as an excuse for the postponement of the wedding, and the authorities also preserved silence while, spurred on by promises of a big reward, they literally ransacked New York from the Battery to Harlem for some trace of the missing man.
But when a week had passed and no tangible clue to his whereabouts had been unearthed, the truth began to filter out, and the Farthingale disappearance became the one topic of the hour, the first page story par excellence of every newspaper in town.
That a man of the social and scientific prestige of Dr. Farthingale, residing in the very heart of the city, and known by sight to hundreds of people, should suddenly have vanished like a pebble dropped into the ocean was enough to startle even the impassivity of Gotham.
It seemed impossible that he had beer, abducted. It was equally incredible that he should voluntarily have taken his departure.
He was rich, in the very zenith of his fame, and just about to be married to a young and beautiful woman—one, moreover, who fully returned his ardent and devoted affection.
Any theory that he had been laboring under a mental aberration was contradicted by his perfect sanity and his regular habits of life.
"It's by all odds the toughest proposition this department has ever had to tackle," remarked Police Captain O'Hara, chief of the detective bureau, as he sat in police headquarters the tenth night after Farthingale's disappearance, gloomily reviewing the progress—or, rather, lack of progress— which had been accomplished. "Working on this case is like trying to climb up a plate-glass wall. There is absolutely not one peg on which a man can hang a clue."
"It does look like a blind alley, chief," assented Oliver Ditson, who happened to be present; "yet there must be some solution."
Ditson was a newspaper man, and a good one. He had long since graduated from the reportorial ranks to a desk position; but since the Farthingale case had assumed such prominence in the public eye, he had voluntarily returned to his old duties for a season in order that he might cover it.
There was much grumbling among the young and ambitious members of his force over this action on his part; but, inasmuch as none of them hail achieved any brilliant results in his handling of the matter, they were not in a position to kick.
Besides that, Ditson's peculiar fitness for this assignment was unquestionable.
He had been a fellow lodger with Farthingale at the Omar Khayyam, and he was the one man in New York with whom the scientist had been on anything like terms of intimacy.
Consequently, the young reporters had to get over their disappointment as best they might, and Ditson energetically buckled down to his unpromising task.
He was now getting all his facts in shape in order that he might proceed with his investigation understandingly, and for this purpose had dropped down to have a chat with his old friend. Captain O'Hara.
"Yes, chief," he repeated musingly, "there must be some solution."
"I'd like to have some one tell me what it is, then," replied the perplexed official, striding up and down the floor. "One of two things is certain: Farthingale either left of his own accord, or he didn't That is about as far as I can get."
"There is the conflict in testimony as to the hour of his return," suggested the journalist reflectively.
"Oh, I don't put much stock in that. You never in your life heard two witnesses agree on the time of an event. In this instance, I am inclined to take the word of the hall boy. He seems pretty definite in what he says, and his statement coincides with all the other known facts.
"Of course. Farthingale may have come into the building at a quarter after ten and not have gone to his room until after eleven, as Kumar says. But what did he do in the mean time?" Captain O'Hara turned quickly towards his visitor. "He wasn't in your room, was he?"
Ditson started a little at the abruptness of the question.
"Don't snoot those 'third degree' questions at me, cap," he laughed. "I'm a nervous beast, and they make me feel like a suspicious character. No, Farthingale did not come into my room that night. As I told you when you asked me that question a week ago, he was never much of a fellow to visit around through the building."
"That's what every tenant in the place says," resumed the captain. "Now, if the man was in the house for over an hour and didn't go into any of the rooms, where was he? It is hardly likely that he wandered unobserved about the halls for all that time. Therefore, Kumar is either mistaken about the matter or is lying."
"Well, let us take up the question of voluntary departure, then," said Ditson. "In working on a case like this it is always wise to clear the ground of the impossible and improbable things, and so arrive at vital facts."
"All right," responded O'Hara. "If he went voluntarily, what was his motive? He certainly didn't skip without some good reason, for so far as I can find out he wasn't in any degree off his head, or likely to get so.
"Now, what was there to induce him to 'fly the coop'? We know that it wasn't financial trouble, and it wasn't a guilty conscience. Neither was it a woman, for he was entirely free from outside entanglements, and the young lady to whom he was engaged tells me that between herself and him there had never been a word, scarcely a difference of opinion, since first they met.
"She says that on that last night he had seemed especially happy and contented, telling her he saw nothing in the future which could possibly dim their joy."
"Perhaps, after he left her," suggested the reporter, "a sudden impulse came over him to return to his old nomadic life. You know, a man who has once indulged in such a career can never be satisfied to settle down to ordinary humdrum existence. Perhaps the old longings came upon him with a force which he was unable to resist."
"Oh, 'perhaps' and 'perhaps'"—testily. "A person can imagine a thousand theories; but the difficulty is to find the facts to fit them. You yourself have told me that Farthingale was never the kind of man to act upon an impulse; that he considered his plans very thoroughly before he decided upon them; but, the decision once made, nothing thereafter could turn him from his course."
"That is true," assented Ditson grudgingly.
He was evidently a trifle put out at having his presumption so unceremoniously dismissed.
"And, besides that," went on O'Hara to clinch the matter, "he told a number of people that he was tired of wandering about the earth, and that he wanted nothing so much as a home and a family. It is scarcely likely that he would chuck the whole thing up for the sake of a sudden whim.
"But suppose that he did; suppose for the moment that such was his motive, how did he get out of the building without anybody seeing him? To go by the door, he must have passed through the outer room without awakening Kumar, and then have slipped by the boy in the hall, who swears that he was awake all night, and is certain that nobody went out. But, stronger proof than all this, do not forget that the door of his bedchamber was locked from the inside.
"How about the window?" asked the reporter. "You understand, chief, I am not putting these questions as objections; but merely to clear up the situation."
O'Hara nodded his head.
"I understand," he said; "but there's nothing in that theory, either. The window is ten stories up from the ground, with no fire escape or other means of descent near enough to be of practical use."
"He might have had a rope?"
"Yes; but when he got to the ground what would he find? That he was shut up in a square court with all the doors and windows opening upon it locked and barred. No, Ditson, I think we may safely say that Dr. Farthingale never left that building of his own volition."
"Your idea, then, is that he was taken against his will?"
"Young man," said the captain quizzically, "you jump to conclusions. I merely said that I did not believe Dr. Farthingale left of his own accord."
"But was he abducted?" persisted the reporter.
"Let us examine that horn of the dilemma in the same way," returned O'Hara. "Do not the same objections apply? Remembering that the door is still locked from the inside, I ask you, is it any easier for two or three men, one of them a struggling prisoner, to leave a building unobserved than it is for one? Could his captors, with him in tow, have escaped either by window or in any other way with as much facility as he could have done it alone?
"In addition to all that, consider that Farthingale was a strong, athletic young fellow who would scarcely have submitted quietly to an assailant; yet in his rooms there was not the slightest sign betokening a struggle."
"Will you kindly tell me what you are driving at?" broke in the evidently bewildered Ditson. "You say you are certain that the man did not go voluntarily; yet now you are endeavoring to prove that it was equally impossible for to have been abducted. For my part, I think the abduction theory has less to stand on than the other." Captain O'Hara grinned. "I was merely trying to clear up the ground for you, so that you could arrive at the 'vital facts,'" he mocked.
Ditson gracefully acknowledged the corn.
"Well, quit teasing," he said with a smile, "and tell me really why it is you think that Farthingale was carried off?"
The big detective stroked his mustache for several moments in silence. Then he leaned forward and spoke confidentially in the other's ear.
"You have overlooked the question of motive," he said. "Do you suppose Farthingale discovered all he was able to in the far east without having had to affiliate himself with some of their priesthoods or oath bound societies? Is it not possible that he has transgressed the laws of some such organization— perhaps by this very intention of getting married, who knows?—and that in so doing he has called down a fearful vengeance on his own head?"
"You objected to my theorizing," sneered Ditson. "What is this idea of yours but rank speculation?"
"It would be," replied the captain, unabashed, "except for one circumstance. I have found out that Farthingale did actually belong to a society of the sort, and, furthermore, that he held them in wholesome fear."
Ditson looked up with a quick glance of interest.
"Strange," he ejaculated, "that he never spoke of this to me."
"Nevertheless, it is true," declared O'Hara. "He did not often talk, as you are no doubt aware, of his personal experiences in the outlandish places he had visited; but on one occasion he admitted to Linwood that he was a duly initiated Yogi, and added that he sincerely regretted the fact, for the reason that any infraction of his vows might result in very serious consequences to himself."
"To Linwood!" muttered the reporter with a frown.
Ho was manifestly vexed that Farthingale should have chosen another confidant than himself. Still, he could not doubt the truth of the statement.
Linwood's veracity was above question.
"Linwood, of course, laughed at his apprehension," continued the captain. "'Why, man alive,' he said, 'this organization to which yon belong is on the other side of the world, and you are in America. How would they ever learn of your transgressions; or, even supposing that they did, how exact the penalty? Remember, this is New York in the twentieth century.'"
"What did Farthingale have to say to that?"
"Linwood says that he simply became more downcast than ever, and, telling him that he didn't know everything in the world, shut up like a clam. Neither to him nor to any one else, so far as we can learn, did Farthingale ever revert to the subject again."
Ditson sat pondering over the captain's revelation.
"That seems to settle the question of motive all right," he finally observed; "but how in the world did they get him, and where is he now?"
"Ask me something easier. It would seem impossible to have taken him forcibly from his rooms without the collusion of either the valet or the hall boy. We have had both of them upon the rack for a week; yet the original story of each remains unshaken. Now, it might have been possible for Mr. Kumar to have stood such a test; but the kid is entirely too young and inexperienced not to have weakened. As far as I am concerned, I think both of them have told all they know."
"Accepting their story as true, it is certain, then, that Farthingale was never taken out by way of the door?"
"And you regard the window theory as utterly untenable?"
"As I have already explained to you, the window is ten stories from the ground and opens on a court from which there could have been no egress."
"Could the doctor not have been taken into some other apartment in the building?"
"That point has been thoroughly investigated. Every tenant in the place, as you well know, is above suspicion."
"How about the roof?"
"Also out of the question. The Omar Khayyam is eight stories higher than any of the adjoining buildings. Even admitting, however, that he could have been carried thither, how did his captor get him down? A man weighing one hundred and seventy five pounds is not to be tossed around like a feather."
"Well, will you kindly tell me, then, how they did get him out?"
"My dear boy, I haven't the slightest idea."
Ditson's eyes twinkled mirthfully as he rode homeward, cogitating on what he had learned.
"O'Hara knew just one thing more than I thought he did," he murmured to himself; "but he may safely be trusted to blunder, no matter what he finds out. I shall have to discover the true solution for him."
And again he smiled.
THE Omar Khayyam, the bachelor apartment house in which Ditson lodged, and which had also been the abiding place of Dr. Farthingale, was a sixteen story building, situated a short distance from the corner of one of the long blocks. It extended two thirds of the way through from Fifty Seventh to Fifty Eighth Street.
It was built in the form of a hollow square, its inner tiers of apartments opening upon an inclosed court. On the eastern side of this court and ten floors up from the ground were the chambers of both Ditson and Farthingale, for the two men had been next door neighbors.
When the newspaper man arose the morning following his interview with Captain O'Hara he spent several moments gazing out from his eyrie down into the square patch below him.
Some effort had been made to beautify the well-like court. A fountain played in its center, and a few hardy shrubs about it strove for a precarious existence.
The walls on each of the four sides for quite a distance up were covered with the dark green sprays of English ivy.
But it was not these familiar sights which engrossed Ditson's attention. He was calculating the possibility of a man descending those sneer precipices of brick arid mortar with any safety.
Apparently his inspection decided him in the negative, for as he withdrew his gaze he shook his head and muttered to himself: "No; O'Hara was right about it. The fire escapes, are all on the outside walls, and even with a rope it would be little short of suicide. Besides, as he says, once down there, how could any one get out?"
He glanced upward, and his eye was caught by the projecting cornice.
"I am not so sure that I agree with O'Hara on that point, however," he remarked reflectively, and once more there was that baffling smile of his curved, thin lips. "It is only a short climb, after all, and, once on the roof, I believe I could figure out some plan of getting down. I must look into that phase of the problem. Yes," he repeated, as he finished his toilet, "I must look into it."
Right around the corner at Fifty Eighth Street was a "Raines law" hotel of the usual type, and thither according to his daily custom Ditson directed his steps after he left the Omar Khayyam.
As he pushed open the swing doors of the barroom, he found the bartender and one of the habitués of the place deep in a discussion, the basis of which was an assertion by the customer that he could always detect a man's nationality from the formation of his face.
"Well, all I've got to say," observed the bartender, "is dat dey wuz a couple o' mugs here two weeks ago dat I bet'd have fooled ye. Dey had lamps on 'em like a Chink's, an' smellers like a coon's, an' dirty yaller hide like a Injun's; an' dey spieled in a sort o' dago langwitch somep'n like w'at Greek Constantin slings.
"'Did ye ever see de like?' says Jimmy to me when we foist piped 'em. 'W'at is dey?' he says.
"'Dam'fino,' says I; an' dat's right, I ain't never seen no one dat kin tell me wat dey is.
"Dey hangs up here for about a week, an' den one night dey skips jes' as I wuz closin' up 'bout two in de mornin'. Don't beat deir bill, neider; clerk tells me dey wuz all square at de desk. He tries to git 'em to stop till daylight, tells 'em dere hain't no extra charge; but nix. Dey won't have it. Makes him send right away for an express wagon to haul deir truck in, an' gita out on fifteen minits' notice."
"I don't blame 'em," put in a comedian from the other end of the bar. "Those beds upstairs is enough to make anybody turn out in the middle of the night."
"When did all this happen?" inquired Ditson quickly, under cover of the laugh.
"Let's see," replied the bartender, studying a moment. "Dat wuz a Friday—no, it wuz a T'oisday night a week ago. I remembers it pertik'ler, 'cause I took Jim's trick for him, him a wantin' to go to a dance up in Harlem."
"Thank you," said Ditson quietly; but he could hardly prevent the thrill of satisfaction which shot through him from betraying itself in his tones.
Thursday week was the very night upon which Dr. Farthingale had disappeared.
"Sam," he added, turning to the bartender, "I want to use the telephone a minute."
Stepping to the instrument, he called up the residence of Captain O'Hara. He knew better than to seek the doughty chief in his office at that time in the morning.
"Cap," he said when a sleepy voice at last answered him from the other end of the wire, "this is Ditson talking. I want you to come right down to No. 196 Fifty Eighth Street."
"What for?" hesitated O'Hara.
"I think I've struck a clue in the Farthingale case."
There was no uncertainty in the answer which came back now. Sharp and decisive were O'Hara's tones as he reached for the handle to ring off: "I'll be with you right away."
Fifteen minutes later he puffed into the saloon like a bulky freight steamer making harbor, and drawing Ditson into a retired corner eagerly listened to his story.
"Two foreign-looking men!" he commented in a jubilant whisper as the other finished. "Exactly what the cop at the Circle saw trailing Farthingale on the night of his disappearance! You're right, Ditson, it looks as though we had hit a lead at last."
Without delay they mounted the steps which led to the hotel, and Ditson began to bang questions at the clerk with the speed and accuracy of a rapid fire gun.
In less than five minutes he had learned all that the clerk knew, and, to his great delight, had obtained ample support for the theory which was rapidly formulating itself in his brain.
Yes, the man at the desk admitted, two persons of the description given had lodged at the hotel for about a week. They had arrived—consulting his ledger—on the 17th, and had left at two o'clock in the morning on the 25th.
No, he didn't believe they had had much to do with any of the other guests in the house. Didn't seem to want to make friends, and had kept pretty closely to themselves; in fact, had only spoken to himself or the proprietor when they settled their bills.
He really hadn't seen very much of them, as they were out most of the time, and when they did come in they invariably went immediately to their room. Come to think of it, one of them had conversed with him for a few minutes, and had expressed a fear of fire.
In order to reassure him, he had informed him where they could find in their room the rope which is required by law to be kept there.
No, he didn't know of what nationality they were, and of course had asked no questions. Should judge, however, from their general appearance and from their baggage, which consisted of huge rolls of carpet, that they were Arabs or Syrians.
They spoke English fairly well.
Yes, they had occupied one room all the time they had remained—No. 34. Certainly, the gentlemen could look at it if they wanted to.
It was top floor, back. The men had said they wanted to be as far from the street as possible, as the noise kept them awake at nights.
With the captain panting and wheezing behind him, Ditson hurriedly ascended to the mean little room. There was nothing distinctive about it—a frayed and faded carpet on the floor, a couple of cheap iron bedsteads, a rickety wash stand with a cracked glass hung above it, on the walls two or three stained engravings and a chromo.
It was the exact counterpart of ninety and nine thousand similar apartments in the great, crowded metropolis.
A hasty glance to the right and left showed Ditson that there was nothing in the room itself to throw any light upon the situation; indeed, it would have been a surprise to him to find there had been.
But, stepping quickly to the window, he threw open the shutters and gazed eagerly out over the unsightly prospect of back yards and ugly rear walls to the surrounding buildings.
One look, and he turned to seize O'Hara excitedly by the arm and point to an object directly in their range of vision. It was the lofty structure of the Omar Khayyam, and there, not twenty feet away from them, was the fire escape leading to its roof.
The chasm between the window and the iron ladder was a dizzy one, yet not impossible to be crossed. If a rope had been stretched—
Why, of course! That was the reason the clerk had been approached on the danger of fire.
The fellows had wanted an excuse to bring a rope into the house; but had been saved from that trouble by finding one already at hand.
"And see here, cap!" Ditson cried triumphantly. "Here on the sill is the mark where a taut rope has rubbed. And, by all that is lucky, here in the floor is the hook to which they fastened it."
The reporter measured the distance between himself and the fire escape with his eye.
The window was up four stories from the ground, and a fall from that height meant certain death upon the flagstones of the yard below; but Ditson was there to prove his point, and he did not waver.
"If they crossed that way, chief," he said coolly, "so can I."
And paying no heed to the detective's expostulations, he hastily procured the fire rope from the closet where it lay coiled, and, attaching one end of it to a stout cord which he retained in his hand, was able, after a few unsuccessful casts, to throw it over one of the rounds of the escape. Then, drawing it in by means of the cord, he made everything fast, and, divesting himself of his coat and shoes, prepared for the attempt.
Out on the frail bridge he swung himself, hand over hand, advancing as lightly and surely as an acrobat, never daring to look below, but with his eyes fixed intently on the goal.
Across at last; and once more proof of what he sought! He gave on exulting cry to the officer watching him from the window.
On the round of the ladder just above where his own rope rested was positive evidence that another rope had recently been fastened. The paint had been rubbed away from its contact, and a wisp or so of hemp had adhered to the iron.
O'Hara, on learning this, was no longer willing to remain impassive; but descending to the ground, clambered up the shaky ladder until he had reached the other man's side and could examine the telltale marks for himself.
"We're on the trail, my boy," he announced happily. "We're on the trail sure. Talk about your bloodhounds. They're not a marker to us, when once we get fairly started."
With such success in hand, there was nothing for them to do but to look further. So up the fire escape they toiled, O'Hara pausing at every landing stage to regain his breath, but nevertheless displaying remarkable agility for a man of his weight.
Round after round they climbed until at last they reached the roof.
Plain as day to them now. Nothing could be easier. All the abductors had to do was to walk across the flat surface to a point directly above Farthingale's window, drop a rope, and clamber down.
Yes; and here were some more of those accusatory marks, showing where their rope had been tied to the chimney. This was disgustingly simple.
Ditson glanced at his companion almost with contempt. O'Hara ought to be ashamed of himself.
What was this?
The reporter stooped and picked up a little metal object which lay glistening in the sunshine at the foot of the chimney. With an exclamation of astonishment, almost of rapture, he handed it over to the captain.
It was a brass charm of Oriental workmanship, part of an amulet probably, and beyond doubt dropped by one of the men they were following up.
"The mystery is cleared up, chief," cried Ditson. "All we have to do now is to get hold of the man that owns this piece of jewelry."
It was true. The discovery of that little charm seemed to make speculation certainty. With that to show as proof, no one could deny the correctness of their theory.
A return to the ground by the less hair raising, but far more speedy and comfortable method of employing the elevator in the Omar Khayyam, a little further questioning of the employees at the "Raines law" hotel, a thorough discussion of the whole affair as it was now revealed to them; then, on Ditson's advice, a visit to the professor of ethnology at Columbia University.
"Professor," he questioned, "what would you consider the nationality of a man with eyes like a Chinaman's, flat nose, and a coppery complexion?"
The man of science ruminated.
"Mongolian, evidently," he finally answered. "Perhaps, a representative of one of the Himalayan tribes; possibly a Thibetan."
Thibet! Ditson almost shouted aloud in his excitement.
The forbidden country! The land of brigandage and priestcraft and mystery!
Above all, the place where Farthingale had made his most daring explorations!
It was enough for the newspaperman. With scant ceremony, he dragged O'Hara away from the professor and sent him oft to headquarters. Then he made his own way to the office as fast as he could be rushed thither.
"Hurrah!" he shouted as he burst in at the door. "I've got it. I've got it all. Farthingale was carried oft by a couple of Thibetan bandits."
"What!" ejaculated his chief. "Sit down and write it up. Don't spare space. We'll send an extra right out with the bulletin. What did they do with him? Where is he?"
"Murdered, I guess," replied Ditson laconically. "All I know is that they got him."
Ditson certainly made a thrilling story out of the material he had, supplying his slender stock of knowledge concerning Thibet from his imagination wherever it became necessary, and interweaving with his tale a thread reminiscent of Wilkie Collins' romance, "The Moonstone."
Using the information he had obtained from O'Hara the night before, he asserted that Farthingale's disappearance was unquestionably due to his transgression of the laws of an esoteric society with which he had affiliated himself while in Thibet.
What other explanation of the presence of the two Thibetans could be given, he asked, than that they were the emissaries of such an organization sent out to carry into execution its dread mandate?
He told of their arrival in this country, and of their actions while at the hotel, described their appearance and characteristics, pictured them as carefully laying their plans, as daily following their unsuspecting victim about the city, ever on the alert for an opportunity to strike.
Probably many of their schemes were frustrated, and, waxing desperate, they were forced to the daring expedient which they finally adopted.
Then, discarding conjecture and marshaling the facts which he had discovered, he told how the men had stretched the rope from their window to the fire escape, and thence had made their way to Farthingale's chamber.
He drew a vivid picture of their stealthy entrance; how with catlike tread they had entered at his window and crept up behind him while he, all unconscious of their presence, sat quietly reading in his big easy chair.
Nearer and nearer they came, until they were right behind him, and then, with a movement so quick as to baffle vision, their sinewy fingers shot out and grasped his throat in vise-like clutch.
Choking, gasping, struggling for air, he strove to rise; but they hung to him on either side, holding him down.
No chance to make an outcry! No opportunity given him to battle for his life! He was as powerless as though bound with cords of steel.
His eyeballs, starting from their sockets, read his inevitable doom in the cold, pitiless glances bent upon him. The blood was surging in his brain, his head was whirling around.
At last came merciful insensibility. His muscles relaxed, he sank supine between his captors.
Still their gripping fingers never loosened until the last spasmodic quiver of his frame was stilled and the heart had ceased to beat.
Then, as silently as they had come, they departed, hoisting the corpse with them up to the roof, and thence bearing it to their dingy attic, where, by concealing it in one of their bulky bales of goods, they were able to remove it from the hotel without attracting suspicion.
DITSON argued in his article that, even bound and fettered, a living, struggling man could not have been transported over roofs and up and down swaying ropes in the manner that Farthingale evidently was, and therefore built his story upon the premises that the man had been slain in his room.
There was of course nothing in the facts he had discovered, except for this opinion, which would warrant such a deduction, for any actual proof of bloodshed was conspicuously missing.
Nevertheless, when his paper appeared with the staring headlines: "IT WAS MURDER!" the unthinking public at once adopted this view of the affair.
The exposition created a tremendous sensation, and all over town could be heard the hoarse voices of the newsboys calling: "Uxtry! Uxtry! All about the Farthingale murder!"
Ditson rather expected a summons to the Grantham residence, and was consequently not surprised to receive very shortly a message from Dr. Farthingale's fiance, requesting him to come to her at once.
He and Marjorie Grantham had been friends and playmates almost since the time they were both in pinafores. Indeed, just before Farthingale had appeared upon the scene it had been hinted that the intimacy between the two was likely to result in a still stronger tie.
But if such were the case, and Ditson had been as bitterly disappointed at her betrothal to another as some people asserted that he was, he had managed bravely to conceal it.
There had never been the slightest break in his old-time relations with Marjorie, and he had shown himself most anxious to stand on a friendly footing with the man of her choice.
Indeed, he had consented to act as Farthingale's best man at the wedding. Since the disappearance of her lover, nothing could have exceeded the kindness and sympathy he had manifested towards Miss Grantham.
Occupying the position of a family friend, and thoroughly acquainted as he was with all phases of New York life, he had been called on from the first for advice and counsel; and only once in his many talks with Marjorie had he overstepped the limits of a most punctilious tact and delicacy.
This was on a certain occasion a day or two after the event when he hinted to her, as he did afterwards to O'Hara, that, drawn by the charms of his old nomadic existence, Farthingale might have deserted his bride and fled back to the wilderness.
"Don't say that again, Oliver Ditson," she had cried, turning on him angrily. "Don't dare even to intimate such a thing. For, no matter what proof of it may be offered to me, I will never believe it. Edward may be dead, although that, too, I doubt, or he may be restrained from communicating with me; but nothing can ever convince me that he left me of his own free will and without a word of farewell."
Ditson was too discreet to attempt to combat this conviction. He knew Marjorie Grantham too well not to understand that her faith once given was not thereafter to be lightly shaken, not even though the seeming proofs were plain as Holy Writ.
So thereafter—perhaps because his newspaper training had bent his views towards the tragic and sensational—he seemed more inclined to give credence to the idea that Farthingale was dead.
Here, too, she differed with him.
"I cannot, I will not accept that terrible alternative," she insisted, "unless it is definitely and incontrovertibly proven to me. Until that time I prefer to believe Edward still alive, and shall wait for his return, no matter how long it be delayed. If he is dead," she added, "why is it that the police and detectives have been able to discover no evidence of the fact?"
"The police!" scoffed Ditson. "When did they ever discover any thing, unless it was sewed up and labeled for inspection?"
A sudden inspiration struck him.
"I'll take up this investigation on my own hook, Marjorie," he cried, "and"—self confidently—"I'll either find our friend or I'll apprehend his murderers. At any rate, I am determined to end this uncertainty."
"Oh, if you only will," she said gratefully.
And that was the reason why Oliver Ditson had laid aside his editorial mantle, and had set all his energies to work upon the Farthingale case.
Now, when he came to her to report success where all others had failed, there was in his manner as he entered the Grantham home no trace of the elation he had shown at the office.
On the contrary, his demeanor was sad and subdued. He was to her, he remembered, the hearer of grievous tidings; he came to confirm the worst news which Marjorie could hear.
She met him in the hall, her face pale, her beautiful eyes vide with apprehension. Her hands were nervously clasped.
"Oh, tell me, tell me that this horrible news is not the truth!" she cried.
"I am afraid I cannot, dear," he said gently, and, leading her into the library, he allowed her to weep unrestrainedly until her sore heart had in some measure spent its burden of grief.
Then very tenderly he told her the results of his search, laying, however, particular stress upon those points which had led him to the conclusion that the affair was a tragedy.
But as he proceeded he observed wonderingly that her tears had ceased to now, and that the light of hope was returning to her face. He could see that she was thinking rapidly and deeply.
"Is that all?" she asked when he had finished.
He bowed assent.
"I wish for your sake it were less," he answered.
An expression of relief spread over her features.
"The cry of the newsboys alarmed me," she said; "but this—why, Oliver, it really means nothing at all. Your eagerness has simply led you to deceive yourself.
"No, Oliver," she added, "it wilt require far stronger evidence than any you have offered to convince me of Edward's death, when all my intuitions tell me he is still alive."
If Ditson's face had been properly downcast when he entered the Grantham residence, there was a look of genuine discomfiture on it when he came out.
No one is fond of having his pet theories and deductions treated with contempt, so it is no wonder that the reporter scowled and muttered profane ejaculations under his breath as he walked along the street, although, it must be confessed, even this would scarcely account for the extreme dejection reflected in his hearing.
He strolled aimlessly down Fifth Avenue for four or five blocks, utterly engrossed in his own meditations. Once or twice a lady made as if to bow to him from her carriage as it rolled along the asphalt; but Ditson was paying no heed to the shifting, moving pageant out in the roadway, and allowed the recognition to pass unnoticed.
This was most unusual with him, for ordinarily he was more than scrupulous in all such matters of etiquette.
Gradually, however, as he walked along, his brow began to clear and his step became more confident.
"I have an idea that she is right," he finally admitted to himself. "The Thibetans are not the heavy villains after all, and I must return to my original theory and ascribe that interesting role to Kumar Sabhu.
"Let me see, what do I know of Kumar? He is, in the first place, extremely reticent and self contained. Even Farthingale knew nothing of his antecedents or his manner of life prior to their first meeting.
"Then he is a wonder worker. That I know myself, for I have seen him perform all kinds of tricks of Hindoo magic for the delectation of Farthingale's guests. True, he seemed devoted to his master; but that might have been for a purpose. Had been with him seven years, I think Farthingale said.
"Oh, yes, I remember the story now. Farthingale was half dead with cholera down at some little place in Bengal, and when he awoke to consciousness found Kumar duly installed as his self constituted nurse. When he got well the Hindoo refused to leave him; but has ever since followed him around the world, looking after his welfare, and in general playing the part of dog.
"H'm. A strange story of devotion, that, Kumar. It looks suspicious. Yes, my swarthy friend, I think you will bear watching."
And with this conclusion Oliver Ditson returned to the Omar Khayyam and spent the evening in poring over his notes.
The following morning on his way to the office he observed a crowd of people clustered thick about a newspaper bulletin-board. On it was displayed the line: "FARTHINGALE MURDERERS GIVE THEMSELVES UP!"
That furtive, cynical smile of Oliver Ditson's lingered on his face a moment as he read the announcement.
"Much good may O'Hara get out of it!" he murmured to himself. "I suppose the old fool flatters himself that this will clear up the entire mystery."
And really that was just what the chief of detectives was thinking at that moment. As soon as he had arrived at his desk, after his discoveries at the Omar Khayyam the previous day, he had issued an order that the Thibetans must be located and brought to headquarters at any cost; but all afternoon and night the officers had searched for them in vain.
Just when O'Hara was coming to the belief that they were nowhere in the city, the suspects surprised him by presenting themselves at his door.
Moreover, they complained bitterly in their broken English of the suspicion which had been cast upon them, and hotly demanded an investigation.
It came out in the course of the captain's inquiries that they had only recently arrived in this country for the purpose of opening a curio shop, and their unconventional departure from the hotel was explained to be due to a desire on their part to assume immediate possession of the permanent sleeping and living quarters which they had secured above their place of business.
They further said they had not yet opened up their shop on account of the failure of some of their goods to arrive; but expected to do so within a few days.
An exhaustive search was made of all their belongings; but much to the disgust of the police not a shred of incriminating evidence was unearthed.
Then Captain O'Hara played his trump card. Suddenly producing the charm discovered by the reporter, he flashed it upon the prisoners.
"Which of you two does this belong to?" he asked sternly.
There was not the faintest gleam of recognition in the beady black eyes of either man. They examined the trinket curiously, and then turned away with a shrug of the shoulders.
Mahomet Ali, the official interpreter of the department, who was present at the interview, broke into a contemptuous laugh.
"Neither of those men would be caught dead wearing a charm like that, captain," he said. "It is a Hindoo talisman, and they are Buddhists."
Thus the last prop seemed to be knocked from under Ditson's carefully constructed fabric.
The district attorney summed the whole matter up when he said to O'Hara: "There is absolutely no show of evidence on which to hold these men. The presence of a few rope marks on the window sill and the fire escape, which might have been made any time within a month, proves nothing in the absence of a corpus delicti. Don't you see it is all merely corroborative?
"Mind you, I don't say that Farthingale may not be dead, and that these very men may not have killed him. But the only way you will ever be able to convict them is to prove that blood has actually been shed. Find Farthingale, or his body, and then we may be able to do something."
"Find Farthingale?" muttered Captain O'Hara sarcastically. "What else have I been trying to do for the last ten days?"
Still Ditson did not appear to be despondent.
Perhaps the reason was that unobserved by the others he had picked up from the floor a little scrap of paper dropped by one of the suspected men, and had carefully placed it in his vest pocket for future reference.
ABOVE the sapphire surface of that great inland sea, Lake Koko-nor in Central Thibet, three islands lift their heads.
The western one, a low strip of marshy land, is named Tso-ri-wa-ri; the middle one, a bare peak of white granite rising perpendicularly out of the water, is called Sam-me-che-kur; the third and the only inhabited one of the three, is Tso-ri-niah.
Projecting high out of the water, yet with its uplands covered for the most part with verdant pastures, it is at once an island and a truncated hill, probably an outcropping spur from the tolling mountain ranges to the south.
On it is a lamasery, reputed one of the moat ancient and holy in the entire country, and the retreat since time immemorial of a body of twelve hermit monks, sworn to spend their days in meditation and prayer, and to abstain from meat, living only on the milk of goats and on such vegetable foods as can be raised upon their circumscribed domain.
They are esteemed the wisest of all the priests of Thibet, and are said to have solved those higher mysteries at which even the advanced mahatmas can only guess.
Their number is limited to twelve, no more, or less, for only in case of a death among them can a new postulant be admitted to their ranks. Yet this was the society of Yogi with which Farthingale had been affiliated, and the one to which he had referred when in a burst of confidence to a friend he had expressed a lurking fear of their vengeance.
He had first arrived on the shores of Lake Koko-nor late one afternoon in summer, spent and weary from a two days' flight beneath the burning sun, weak from lack of food, utterly destitute, a stranger in a land where the welcome to the stranger is death.
While traveling through the mountains to the west, two nights before, his party had been suddenly set upon by robbers, his provisions and equipment seized as booty, and all of his attendants save the faithful Kumar slain or carried away into captivity.
He and the Hindoo, escaping almost by a miracle, had by the rapidity of their movements been able to elude their pursuers. They had struck: towards the east, in the hope that they might fall in with a caravan bound for China; but now, as they gazed upon the unfamiliar scenes around them, they realized that they had wandered far from the road, and that in their present footsore and exhausted condition any attempt to retrace their steps would prove futile and unavailing.
Farthingale sank down with a groan upon the beach.
"Kumar," he gasped, scarcely able to speak above a whisper, "I can go no farther. Leave me and save yourself."
The Hindoo made no answer in words. Staggering down to the lake, he brought water with manifest toil to bathe the neck and brow of his companion.
Then, unable to do more, he too sank upon the sand.
"Is there absolutely nothing to eat left in your knapsack?" importuned Farthingale. "Go through it once more and see if you cannot at least find a crust."
"There is nothing, sahib. All I have left are your papers and the case of medicines."
The penguins and gulls whirred all about them, a rift of foam out on the lake showed where a fish had risen to the surface; but they were too weak to attempt to catch them. In the midst of plenty they were starving.
They lay there in the silence of utter fatigue, gazing with hopeless eyes out over the shifting waters which lapped musically almost to their very feet.
In the light of the setting sun the wavelets flashed with the opaline gleam of mother of pearl. To the south rose the long ranges of the Nan-shan mountains, their lower levels covered with fine grass, their summits burned to crimson in the rosy radiance from the west; while to the east lay the purple hills, a barrier between them and civilization.
Beautiful and glorious, truly! Yet, in their miserable plight, the beauty and the glory were lost upon the castaways. The sunlight was dimmed for them by the shadow of impending doom.
Without food or shelter, as they were, they dared not seek either from the denizens of this land, for the fierce, fanatical Tanguts who inhabit the shores of the lake, are robbers and murderers by profession, and they knew that short indeed would be their shrift if once they fell into such hands.
Suddenly Kumar raised himself on one elbow and looked earnestly out towards Tso-ri-niah.
"Sahib," he cried in excited tones, "if my eyes deceive me not, a boat puts off towards us from yonder island."
Farthingale, however, was too nearly collapsed to be moved to interest in anything.
"What matters it?" he muttered apathetically. "If they hare discovered us, it simply means that we die now instead of slowly perishing from starvation."
Kumar, on the contrary, evidently did not intend to sell their lives so cheaply.
He watched warily the advance of the shallop, for such it proved to be, and when he saw that it contained but a single occupant he set his teeth grimly and took from a pouch at his side a blow pipe and a little bundle of poisoned darts, his favorite weapon of defense.
Nearer and nearer came the little boat, dancing over the waters, and now the Hindoo's face relaxed, and he replaced the blow pipe in his pouch.
The oarsman was an old man with a patriarchal flowing beard and a countenance serene and peaceful. He wore the loose yellow robe of the Buddhist priests.
As his craft grounded on the shore he turned with an unmistakable gesture of friendliness, and, springing to the beach with remarkable agility for one of his years, approached the two castaways, pausing at every third step to make a low obeisance and beat his head thrice against the ground.
At last he stood before Farthingale.
"Welcome, thrice welcome, O master!" he cried, addressing the doctor in the classic or "Lhasa" dialect of the Thibetans. "We knew of thy coming, and all is prepared for thy reception."
Astonishment at this statement aroused Farthingale from his lethargy.
"Knew of my coming?" he ejaculated. "Why, it is only by chance that I am here. I had intended to pass far to the south, and would assuredly have done so had not my caravan been beset by brigands, and I and my companion forced to flee for our lives."
The old man shook his head gently in half amused dissent.
"'If' and 'unless'!" he responded contemptuously. "We lamas know that events do not so happen by chance. It was ordained that you should come. You could not have prevented it; you could not escape from it. All the forces of Nature, the circling of the stars in their spheres, the roll of the universe upon its axis, must have been disarranged ere thou couldst have passed another way."
Farthingale was silent. There seemed no answer adequate to meet the other's positive certitude.
"And where do the forces of Nature direct me now?" at length he inquired humbly.
"To our island," was the cheerful response. "It is fated that you should become one of us, should henceforth forego thy roving life and dedicate thy days to a higher knowledge, should be initiated into our most secret mysteries. See bow the forces work towards this end.
"A week ago the black scourge, diphtheria, broke out among our number, and yestere'en two of our brothers closed their eyes in the eternal sleep. Even now our abbot, the holy Mana Fuyeh, lies stricken with the disease; but it is granted us to know that at present he shall not taste death.
"For that hast thou come. Thou wilt heal him, and then, in order that our numbers may be filled, thou and thy companion must join our ranks."
Despite his bodily weakness, Farthingale's investigating spirit was thrilled to the core by the old man's reference to an esoteric knowledge.
For this he had sought all through India, had crossed the Himalayas, had undergone a thousand perils. And now the door was suddenly thrown open to him.
"What do you say, Kumar?" he asked, turning to his companion.
"There is but one course," replied the Hindoo philosophically. "If we remain here, we perish. On the island there is at least food and protection. I care not what my religion may be as long as my belly is full. So, as for me, I say let us become lamas, and thank Brahma for the opportunity."
The aged lama expressed neither surprise nor satisfaction at their decision.
"I knew that thou wouldst come," Was all he said.
Then, supporting them in turn to the boat, he pushed off and drove his little vessel speedily forward with his long, steady strokes at the oars.
The swift motion, the knowledge that material comforts would soon be theirs, above all the reversal from despair to hope, did much to restore the sufferers, and as they approached the island they raised themselves up and gazed with curious eyes towards this unexpected refuge.
Closer and closer they came, until at last they could make out, perched high up on a precipitous cliff, the rainbow hued walls of the monastery itself.
It was a picturesque old rookery, consisting of an assemblage of fantastic and irregular buildings rising tier above tier against the hillside, and ornamented by rude battlements, connecting bridges, and exterior stairways, the whole crowned by a massive square tower with a pagoda roof.
On the lower terraces were the residences of the lamas, a separate house being set apart for each, and its character denoted by the gleaming whiteness of its walls.
Above them all was the abode of the kanpo, or abbot, and this was distinguished from the others by walls of flaming red.
Still further up were reared the temples, gaudily painted structures of burnt brick surrounded by sculptured colonnades and with roofs of slanting tiles, the ends of which, projecting over the walls, were tinged with vivid blues and greens.
At the landing the boat was met by a party of priests who, tenderly lifting Farthingale and his companion, carried them up a long zigzag flight of steps hewn from the solid rock, and into a roomy dwelling which they were told they might hereafter consider as their own.
Almost immediately a meal was set before them, consisting of tsamba, fruits, goat's milk, and tea, and then they were placed in bed between warm blankets and allowed to sleep.
Farthingale and the Hindoo were both inured to hardship, and a good night's rest practically restored both of them to their wonted condition.
They awoke in the morning thoroughly refreshed and ravenously hungry for the savory breakfast which was promptly placed before them.
"It seems that we are to have no lack of creature comforts, Kumar," observed the doctor. "If the Fates are guiding us, they have at least cast our lines in pleasant places."
"What says the Hindoo proverb?" returned Kumar sententiously. "'The best time to judge of a journey is at its end.'"
Further conversation between them was interrupted by the entrance of their boatman of the previous night, who intimated that the kanpo was now ready to receive them.
As soon as Farthingale's eye fell upon this august dignitary, he realized that he was in the presence of an extremely sick man. The hot flush of fever was on the abbot's cheek, his eye was glazed, he was so weak that he could scarcely lift his hand.
Yet with marvelous self discipline he had refused to abate in the slightest degree his accustomed stale. He sat upright on his carven throne, clad in his saffron robes, the breastplate around his neck, his glittering miter set upon his head.
About the room stood seven of his lamas, each presiding over a prayer wheel, which was kept constantly buzzing, while all intoned in a low, monotonous chorus the mystic six syllabled phrase, "Om Mani Padme Hum."
The light of day was rigorously excluded from the apartment, and the atmosphere was heavy with the smoky haze from myriads of butter lamps, which cast a weird glamour upon the costly vestments of the invalid.
"My son," he said as Farthingale approached, his words broken by distressful pantings, and his tone so low that only with the greatest difficulty could he be understood, "thou hast been sent by Heaven to restore me to health. Proceed with thy incantations."
"I use no incantations," replied Farthingale; "yet am I somewhat skilled in healing arts, and—"
"I care not what thy methods," interrupted the abbot. "Thou hast been sent to cure me. It is not for me to question."
"But I may fail," said Farthingale cautiously.
"Thou wilt not fail," with a sublime assurance.
"I am but a man," persisted the physician, "and though I do my best, still may I fail."
The abbot bent a glance of stem severity upon him.
"Hark ye," he said. "Word has been vouchsafed to us that a white man and a black would be brought hither to restore me to health. If thou dost, as that word hath said, then are ye the men; if not, then ye are impostors, and shall be put to death with excruciating tortures. Bear witness to my words, O lamas!"
From the waiting priests came the dull, obedient cry: "We are thy witnesses. If they fail, then shall they surely die."
Farthingale quickly considered the conditions. The sole chance of escape for himself and his companion was to cure the abbot.
He and Kumar were caught like rats in a trap, and, unless he could convince these fanatics that he was in reality the messiah they expected, might expect scant mercy. Moreover, it did not require a searching examination of the sick man, or of the medical appliances at hand, to assure him that the odds were fearfully against success.
Yet the very hopelessness of the situation aroused all his Anglo-Saxon combativeness. He glanced at Kumar's impassive countenance, as cool and unconcerned as though the kanpo's behest had been no more than an invitation to breakfast.
Here at least was one ally upon whom he could rely. Then he threw back his head with a gesture of defiance.
"It is well, O kanpo," he answered. "I accept the challenge. But," he added, "if I am to fight with death for thee, I must choose my own weapons, and must insist on immediate and unquestioned obedience to my commands."
"It shall be as thou wilt in all things."
"Then," said Farthingale, "stop this racket of prayer wheels and all this hubbub; send these priests away; and let the house be cleared of this reek of burning grease."
The attendant lamas gazed at one another in consternation. Did this bold newcomer intend to allow the devils to come in and wreak their will upon Mana Fuyeh unchecked?
How else could evil spirits be kept away save by prayer and incantation and the burning of many holy lamps?
One of the older priests started forward to expostulate; but the kanpo stopped him with a wave of his hand.
"The stranger hath his own methods," he said. "I yield obedience thereto, and so must ye. If he fail, on his own head be it."
There was no further protest. The windows were thrown open, and the sweet breath of the morning swept in to dissipate the rank and fetid odors of the place.
Then the lamas departed, and the foreigners were left alone with their patient.
"Now off with that robe and miter and into bed without a moment's delay," ordered Farthingale, assuming the dictatorial authority of his profession.
Mana Fuyeh made a faint motion of dissent; but the doctor scowled at him so savagely that he quickly reconsidered, and, without another word, permitted Kumar to disrobe him and lay him upon the couch.
Over him then bent the physician, testing pulse, temperature, and respiration, examining his throat, punching him here and prodding him there, asking terse, sharp questions and scarcely waiting for the answer, noting with practised eye every condition which bore either for or against recovery.
"It's worse even than I feared," he finally whispered to Kumar. "The man has diphtheria in the most advanced stages and of especially malignant type. The chances are a thousand to one against him."
"What then have you decided to do, sahib?"
"Hold to that one chance like a drowning man to a straw. Get me some hot water, bring up the medicine case from my room, and be quick."
That was the commencement of a battle, grim and savage, with an unwearying and ever present enemy. For two days and nights Farthingale scarcely permitted himself to close his eyes.
He stood over the couch of the abbot, holding death at bay literally by the strength of his arms. Not the slightest change in temperature, not a single fluctuation of the pulse, escaped his watchfulness.
Ever on the alert, he anticipated every symptom and forestalled its effect. On one occasion, regardless of the danger of contagion, he forced respiration by himself breathing into the other man's lungs.
The patient, having cast the responsibility of recovery upon other shoulders, seemed to let go entirely. Within half an hour after Farthingale assumed control Mana Fuyeh was tossing and raving in a wild delirium, and this had now continued for over forty eight hours.
The strain which the man had imposed upon himself by maintaining his state despite his illness now reacted in an utter revolt of the entire nervous system. Sleep could not be coaxed to his eyelids, and in constant staring wakefulness he was rapidly wearing out his vitality.
Opiates were powerless to soothe him, and with a sinking heart Farthingale realized that unless a miracle occurred the result was certain.
On the evening of the third day, after he had made a final and very complete examination of the patient, he turned to Kumar.
"We have lost," he said quietly. "The membrane is broken, and the man would undoubtedly recover were it not for this cursed neurasthenia. As it is, he will simply thresh himself to death."
The Hindoo cogitated in silence for several minutes, then he held out his hand towards his master.
"Leave me alone with him, sahib," he begged. "There is an old trick I learned in childhood, which I think may serve us better now than all your drugs."
Farthingale was at the end of his resources. There could be no harm done by granting the Hindoo's request, even if there was nothing gained.
He knew better than to question his servitor. There were certain things which Kumar confided to no one, not even his beloved master.
So nodding assent, he left the valet to his own devices.
As he went out at the door, however, he caught a glimpse of Kumar. He was bending over the sick man, his gaze fixed intently on the other's face, his hands making mystic passes, his voice singing a low, crooning song.
Five minutes later the Hindoo signaled him to return. Mana Fuyeh was sleeping as peacefully as a tired child.
FOR two years Farthingale and Kumar dwelt at Tso-ri-niah, and on the whole they were not unhappy years. The American was tired of his roving life, weary of the stress and strain; and the calm peace of the island monastery came like balm to his soul. Moreover, the mystic religions of the east had always been a subject of the keenest interest to him, and here he was granted the opportunity to study them at the fountain head.
At Tso-ri-niah he had free hand at wonderful old parchments, yellow with antiquity, inscribed in quaint Sanskrit of an era long before the time of Solomon; here he could listen by the hour to traditions and fables hoary with the ages; here was found in an ideal degree that atmosphere of calm and that freedom from interruption which the scholar and investigator most eagerly covet.
As for the Hindoo, it were difficult to determine whether he was contented or not. To judge from his manner, all places were alike to him. Winter or summer, a palace or a hovel, crusts of the gutter or dainty fare, he never had any complaints to offer so long as his master was satisfied.
So the two became to all appearances identical with their brother Jamas of the water-girt domain.
They wore the same yellow robe, followed the same frugal life, indulged once in a while at a desultory rolling of the prayer wheel; but like the others spent their time for the most part in the manner which best suited their own fancy.
For the lamasery was to a great extent liberty hall. Mana Fuyeh's rule, except on occasions of state, was of the mildest character, and he made few demands upon the time of his subordinates which were not absolutely necessitated by the nature of their association.
Hence it is small wonder that neither of the strangers found cause to regret his enrollment among the mystic twelve.
Kumar, with the Oriental's dislike for exertion, whiled away his hours in dreamy meditation, with hands folded in his lap idly gazing out from the cliffs across the lake; but Farthingale, obeying the more strenuous impulse of his blood, passed the most of his time in the library of the temple, poring over manuscripts, listening to the long recitals of the kanpo, watching the different ceremonials, collating facts, and reasoning out comparisons.
Or, did he tire of this, there were other activities to claim his attention.
Oshinima and Karana, two of the younger members of the lamasery, were gifted with inquiring minds, and they never wearied of questioning him concerning the life and customs of the country from which he had come. Under his tutelage, they became exceedingly proficient in the English language, and imbibed from their talks with him a fairly accurate knowledge of American conditions.
Thus the scientist passed his days, never doubting that he should spend the remainder of his life at Tso-ri-niah, having no desire to return to the hurly-burly, content with his lot.
He became wedded to the lotus-eating existence which Fate seemed to have selected for him.
Those in America who had known him naturally supposed from his long silence that he had fallen a victim to his zest for knowledge, and that his bones were now bleaching in the midst of some lonely desert, or on some bleak mountainside.
But if Farthingale realized this, he did not care. The ties which bound him to his native land were of the slightest; while Tso-ri-niah was a paradise on earth, and its pleasures the most congenial he had ever found.
So, in all probability, he would have lived and died a forgotten recluse among the yellow-robed brotherhood had not a circumstance occurred which in its effects was destined to alter the whole course of his career.
It was on the second anniversary of his admission to the monastery that he received a message from the kanpo requesting him to present himself at the scarlet residence without delay.
Repairing thither, he found the abbot and Kumar Sabhu in close conference.
Ever since Mana Fuyeh's recovery from the attack of diphtheria he had shown a remarkable fondness for the society of the Hindoo, and being a sufferer from insomnia, he would frequently coax his friend to woo sleep to his eyelids.
He claimed that during these times, when the Hindoo threw him into a trance-like state, the heavenly voices by which he directed his own affairs and those of the monastery came to him with increased force and distinctness.
Formerly, these voices had been audible to him only at rare intervals and at favorable seasons; but now, under Kumar's ministrations, he was able to secure a communication whenever he desired it.
Farthingale entertained very shrewd suspicions as to the real origin of these miraculous revelations; but inasmuch as they had hitherto invariably inclined in the direction of his own desires, he had discreetly held his peace.
Mana Fuyeh excitedly hailed the American as he entered the room, and hurriedly scrambled through the responsive ceremonial which is required before the abbot can be addressed on even the most unimportant matter.
"My son," he said breathlessly when at last he was free to speak, "I have just received a most important word concerning thee, one which I sorely regret to impart; yet which I am imperatively commanded to put into force at once. It is that thou and thy companion who accompanied thee hither shall forthwith depart from us and repair to thine own country and people. For three years thou must abide with them, instructing them in our holy precepts, and then, if Heaven so wills it, thou mayest return."
Farthingale cast a reproachful glance at Kumar; but the Hindoo hung solicitously upon the kanpo's words and refused to look in his master's direction. Then the doctor made entreaty to the abbot himself.
"Is it not possible," he ventured, "that the holy Mana Fuyeh has for once failed to hear aright? Might it not be wise to wait until there comes a repetition of the mandate?"
The kanpo sternly shook his head.
"There is no mistake," he said, "nor is it fitting that the word should thus be lightly questioned. Therefore, without further insubordination to a divine decree, thou and our brother Kumar will leave the island at daybreak on the morrow.
"Traveling eastwardly three days, ye will fall in with a caravan on its way from the Dalai Lama at Lhasa unto the merchants at Shanghai. Ye will accompany it to its destination; and from there will make your way by the ordinary modes of travel to your own land. Gold will be provided ye, and provisions to last until the caravan be met.
"It grieves my soul to part with ye, my sons; but it is an order, and must not be disobeyed. Only I charge ye that ye be faithful to your vows. Remember, above all, that ye are sworn to celibacy, and let not your gaze linger upon a woman's face. Deceit lingers in their smiles, and hypocrisy in their tresses; so shun them lest ye be tempted to your own undoing, and suffer for your sins the dreadful vengeance of the Twelve.
"Not upon ye alone, either; but also upon her who is the guilty partner of the infraction of our laws snail fall a fearful penalty; so if your feet should be inclined towards these dangerous paths, remember, and for her sake as well as for your own, forbear.
"I have small fear, however," went on the old man in a more kindly tone, "that either of ye will stray from the path. Ye are ripened men, and when ye took our oaths ye knew to what ye bound yourselves. Also have ye been obedient and dutiful while here, and are well grounded in our tenets. So go; and the blessing of Heaven rest upon ye."
There was no possibility of further gainsaying the command. Despite the abbot's extraordinary benignity, Farthingale well knew that when under the guidance of his "voices" he became as adamant.
Neither reason nor protestation could then prevail against his stubborn will.
When he and Kumar were safely alone, however, he turned upon the valet with bitter recriminations. The Hindoo at first denied any connection with the kanpo's decision; but at last, driven into a corner, defended himself by repeating with a maddening grin:
"What says the Hindoo proverb? 'A bird was never intended to live in a rat hole.' I believe thee a bird, O sahib; but if thou art in truth a rat, three years is not an eternity, and the rat hole will still be here, shouldst thou return.
"Besides, sahib," he added with a strange, shy look upon his face, "hast thou never considered that the years glide by and thou hast as yet no one to follow in thy footsteps?"
"And never will have," returned Farthingale. "You seem to forget that we are both sworn to single blessedness. Have you so soon forgotten what the kanpo said?"
"But if we were free," persisted Kumar with that curious light still in his eyes. "There is a greater law than that of the kanpo, sahib; and I have sometimes dreamed that it might be sweet to share my life with another, and to have little children playing about my feet."
"Well, I have not," returned the doctor shortly. "And if you are wise, neither will you. We have something to do in the world besides dream of love like silly schoolgirls."
There was nothing further to say. Farthingale could not fail to recognize that the Hindoo's action had been prompted by a consideration for his own welfare, and he was too just a man to upbraid the valet for what was meant as a kindness.
Yet it was many days before he forgave the officious intermeddling; and the warm, friendly relations the two had hitherto maintained towards each other were from that time altered in an appreciable degree.
The next morning, with a heavy heart at the thought of leaving the scene of so many pleasant associations, he and Kumar fared forth into the world. Oshinima and Karana accompanied them to the mainland, and there with many tears bade them both an affectionate farewell.
It is needless to recount the return of Farthingale and his companion to civilization.
The trip was an uneventful one, and none of its incidents seem worthy of being chronicled, save that of the sensation which the reappearance of a man so long thought dead created in America, and that is of such recent occurrence that it will be fresh in the minds of every one.
The disappointment of curiosity seekers and hero worshipers will also be readily recalled, for this modern Ulysses refused to be lionized, and the information he vouchsafed concerning his personal experiences could easily have been covered by half a dozen sentences.
His book, which was eagerly received, is recognized as the most complete and authoritative discussion of the mystic religions ever published; but you will search it in vain for a word concerning the sources from which he obtained his knowledge.
He did not propose to make Tso-ri-niah a stamping ground for the ubiquitous tourist, nor to have the seclusion of the yellow robed brotherhood broken in upon by peripatetic missionaries.
So ardently did he long to return to the scene of his studies that the three years spent in America were almost like a season of exile to him.
He had no relatives living, and the friends he had known in the days of his youth were now all estranged from him by his long absence, and were engrossed in pursuits in which he felt not the slightest interest.
He had been in New York all but three months of the allotted period, and was eagerly looking forward to the day when he would be permitted to sail, when he met Marjorie Grantham. And then the world for him was created anew!
It was at a reception given in his honor by his old friend Chester Linwood. Farthingale despised above all things this being trotted out for inspection and chattered at by a troop of women; but in the present instance it was simply impossible for him to decline.
So he stood sulkily in one corner of the room, kicking his heels together and answering the questions put to him with bored monosyllables.
Suddenly his attention was attracted towards a girl who had arrived late and was now making her way towards the hostess.
"Linwood," he demanded, impetuously grasping his friend by the arm, "who is that woman who has just entered the room?"
"The one in blue?" returned the other languidly.
"No; of course not," with considerable vehemence. "One can see freaks like that anywhere. I mean the glorious creature in yellow satin with hair like prisoned sunbeams."
"For a confirmed celibate, that is not half bad," remarked Linwood with a cynical smile; "but I see whom you mean now, and if anybody deserves such a glowing apostrophe, it is she. That is Miss Marjorie Grantham, only daughter of old Hartley Grantham, the millionaire. She's just back from abroad, and they say she had half the dukes and earls in Europe standing on their heads to try to win a smile from her. But, if reports are true, she turned them all down, and the field is still open. Would you like to meet her?"'
Captain O'Hara had spoken truly when he said that nothing short of a miracle could turn Farthingale from a decision once arrived at.
The miracle had happened, for his decision to return to Tso-ri-niah was overruled by a new decision made the moment he set eyes upon Marjorie Grantham, and this was that she was the one woman in all the world for him.
His dreams of a hermit existence given over to study and research vanished at her coming like mist before the sunshine. In one short moment the cool, calculating man of science was transformed into the lover, fiery, headstrong, impassioned.
Their acquaintance thus begun rapidly deepened into intimacy. Within a very short time Farthingale realized that his feelings towards her were fully reciprocated, and the knowledge drove him almost to madness, for he dared not tell his love.
When words of tenderness surged to his lips, and his heart beat wildly, tumultuously, with the longing to clasp her in his arms, the words of the kanpo would recur to his mind, falling like a chilling blight upon his ardent spirit—
"Not only upon thee, but also upon her, shall fall the dreadful vengeance of the Twelve!"
He could dare anything for himself; but to place her in such peril, to mark her as a target for the fanatical fury of these oriental zealots! No; a thousand times, no!
It was at this time that his tortured and overwrought soul had unburdened itself in the admission he had made to Linwood; but he had gained little relief from his friend's optimistic counsel.
"This may be New York in the twentieth century," he muttered to himself; "but news percolates to that far off lamasery in some way, and Mana Fuyeh's arm is long."
Then he strove to forget her and return to his studies; but all in vain. Her face danced across the pages before him. He could not throttle the desire for her in his heart—
One night as he sat thus, uninterestedly deciphering some old manuscripts he had brought with him from Tso-ri-niah, he chanced to light upon a catalogue of the laws of the Twelve, and while examining it was surprised to discover that the initial letters of the first three sentences spelled a Thibetan word.
His attention was caught by the circumstance, and he idly followed the arrangement down the page, until at last it was made plain to nim that with oriental secrecy an acrostic had been hidden in the code.
As he made more and more of it out, his excitement increased, and at length, when he had finished, he sprang to his feet, his face alight with joy, exclaiming in a perfect transport of happiness: "Thank God! Oh, thank God!"
The next week his engagement to Miss Grantham was announced. Society wondered; but it could not fail to approve of the match. In wealth and social position there was nothing left to be desired on either side, while against the youth and loveliness of the bride Farthingale bad to offer a career of undeniable achievement and a name famous on two continents.
"I always thought she would marry Ditson," said Society; "still...."
It was decided that they should make their home in the neighborhood of New York, and there being no good reason for delay, the date of the wedding was set for Miss Grantham's twenty second birthday.
When Kumar heard the news he approached his master with a serious face.
"Will thou place thy head in the lion's jaws, sahib?" he asked meaningly.
"If you mean by that to inquire whether I am going to marry Miss Grantham," replied Farthingale, "I can tell you that I most certainly am."
"But have you considered the Twelve? Sahib, I must prevent this."
"Look here, Kumar," said the doctor sharply, "I have forgiven you for meddling in my affairs at Tso-ri-niah, for if you had not I should never have met Marj—should never have come to America. But I want you to distinctly understand that I will have no more of it. Were it not for this tendency of yours to continually interfere in matters which do not concern you, I would tell you all my plans. As it is, I simply say to you that I run no risk in going to the altar."
"Have you told Miss Grantham, sahib, of our brotherhood at Tso-ri-niah, and of the rule that members must remain unwed?"
"No. It would simply alarm her needlessly, for I assure you, Kumar, that I am in no danger. The penalty will never be exacted from me."
And with that Kumar had to rest content.
On the evening before the wedding, as has been already stated, Farthingale was a visitor at the home of his fiance.
"Are you sure that you harbor no regrets, Edward?" she had asked him anxiously. "I sometimes dread that the old longings may come over you, and that some day you may regard me as the prisoner does his jailer."
"Disabuse yourself of any fear of that kind," he laughingly replied. "Of all the places I have visited, there is only one to which I have ever cared to return, and now since I have the prospect of a lifetime spent beside you, that desire is also swept away. I hate the very thought of going back there now."
He heaved a deep sigh.
She looked at him questioningly.
"Why so mournful?" she asked laughingly. "There is no reason that you should go any place you do not wish to, is there?"
He opened his lips as if to make reply; but reconsidering his intention, turned the conversation into other channels.
At that very moment across the avenue in the shadow of the Park wall lurked Oshinima and Karana, his fellow lamas at the far away island in Lake Koko-nor.
"Will he consent, think you?" asked Oshinima in a cautious whisper. "We cannot return to the kanpo and report that we have failed."
"Nor will we," responded Karana, with a tightening of his lips. "Do not forget that Mana Fuyeh told us this marriage must be prevented at any cost —at any cost," he repeated meaningly. "Do you understand?"
WITH the puncture given Ditson's ingenious theory by the district attorney, the mystery of Dr. Farthingale's disappearance became more inexplicable than ever.
One result had plainly been effected by the reporter's story, however, and that was that the public mind was now thoroughly convinced that the case was one of blackest crime.
Whereas, before, the newspapers and "the man in the street" had often referred to the affair as "Dr. Farthingale's departure," it was now universally spoken of as the Farthingale "murder."
The police likewise were of the opinion that this was the true solution of the problem. In fact, about the only person interested who refused to accept this view was Miss Marjorie Grantham, the missing man's fiance.
The dreadful occurrence had of course fallen upon her as a staggering shock, and ever since she had been in a mental state bordering upon distraction.
She was continually the prey to a thousand cruel fears ana morbid fancies; yet, through the whole period she maintained the most unwavering loyalty to her absent lover. That he had wilfully and voluntarily deserted her she would not, she could not believe.
Nor, in spite of the evidence pointing in that direction, would she admit that he had been slain. Some monitor seemed constantly to whisper in her ear that he was still alive.
It might be, she confessed, that he was under restraint, else she did not understand how anything could have kept him from communicating with her. It was probable, even, that he was in deadly peril.
Indeed, it was this latter phase of the situation which caused her her keenest anxiety. Often a call for help from him seemed ringing in her ears.
She must go to him, must succor him, she would think. And involuntarily she would rise from her seat as though to seek him.
Then would come the crushing realization that she knew not where to look.
"Where shall I go? Whither?" she would cry aloud; but no answer was vouchsafed to her pleadings.
She could not sleep at night. Her constant impulse was to follow, follow.
Yet, when she endeavored to obey the impulse, she found no leading, not even an intuition to guide her footsteps. Her health was breaking underneath the strain. All that sustained her was the hope that she might somehow be of service to the man whom she adored.
With this idea in her mind, she patiently followed every clue, traced down every wild rumor. As soon as a new hypothesis was constructed to account for the affair, she instantly used every means at her command to test the premises upon which it was based, no matter how problematical they might be.
Indeed, almost daily she would formulate some new theory of her own, and would painstakingly compare it with all the known facts, only to find that her efforts, like those of the police and the newspaper men, was doomed to end in failure.
Still, she never gave up heart.
Each morning when she arose she demanded the papers to learn if any new discoveries had been made during the night, and far into the evening she could be found studying the theories advanced for her by a host of aspiring Vidocqs, studying in the hope that from all the mass of chaff she might be able to extract a single grain of wheat.
One Sunday her maid brought her in a great pile of the day's papers, and, opening st random the one with which Ditson was connected, she saw printed there a photographic reproduction of the room whence Farthingale had disappeared.
She noted with a rush of tenderness her own portrait enshrined upon the wall, and beneath it a great jar of roses. She was his goddess, he had once laughingly told her, and he made a votive offering of roses at her shrine each day.
With tears in her eyes she sat gazing long at the smudgy half tone, and while she gazed she beheld something which caused her to give a sudden little shriek of amazement—
Was it? Could it be? She bent closer and scanned the page with a devouring scrutiny.
Yes, it was true. There before her eyes the figure of her fiancé was revealing itself in the illustration.
Shadowy and dim the presence was; but still unmistakably his lineaments, his personality. Farthingale and none other.
It was as though an impalpable mist had cleared away from the surface of the picture, betraying depths which had at first outraged her vision, a finer detail than she had before been able to discern.
She rubbed her eyes and looked again. Was she the victim of an hallucination, an optical delusion?
No. The figure was still there. It was her lover himself; she could no longer doubt.
Palpitating with excited hope, she hurried to her father.
"Papa," she cried, "here is a clue which even you will be forced to recognize."
Old Grantham, when he had heard her story, took the paper and scrutinized it long and carefully. He was a plain, matter of fact person, given to pooh-poohing anything which verged even in the smallest degree upon the supernatural or miraculous.
"You are mistaken, daughter," he finally declared. "What you see is nothing more than a blur in the print. Besides, the whole idea is preposterous. Had Farthingale been in the room, the photographer must surely have perceived him."
Marjorie was so persistent in her assertion, however, that at length, in order to fully satisfy her and prove incontrovertibly that she was deceived, the old man sent for the photographer.
His arrival shed a new light upon the matter.
"Miss Grantham is correct in her surmise," he said. "There was the figure of a man in the original picture; but I do not think you need attach any undue importance to the circumstance."
Then he proceeded to explain that the negative from which the illustration had been taken was one of those peculiar but not infrequent photographic freaks known as "spirit pictures."
The reflection of some external object—as, for instance, an adjoining building, a person passing along the street, or a picture hanging upon the wall— may be projected into the field of the camera with the result that upon the developed plate the reflected object appears to have been an actual part of the scene photographed.
One of the most notable examples of the kind, he remarked, was to be found in the pictures of the old footbridge which formerly crossed lower Broadway at Fulton Street.
Every photograph which was taken of this structure revealed the shadowy, nebulous figure of a woman floating in the air above the heads of the passers by. For a long time the presence of this apparition in the pictures created an immense amount of discussion, and the superstitious regarded it as proof positive of the existence of beings beyond mortal ken.
But at length a shrewd observer noted some points of identity which had been previously overlooked, and it was shortly demonstrated that the spectral figure was in reality nothing more than a statue which adorned the facade of a neighboring building, and which by some peculiar refraction of the light was thrown forward in the photographs so as to seem suspended directly over the bridge.
In the case at hand, the operator stated, the figure of a man had undeniably shown itself in his picture; but he was certain that its presence there was due to nothing more than one of these trick reflections.
Ordinarily, he would have preserved the plate as a curiosity; but, as it happened, he had taken only the one exposure, and could not spare the time to secure another. So, as he had been commissioned to photograph an empty room, and not one containing an occupant, he had expunged the phantasm from his picture.
He deeply regretted that the illusion had aroused any hope in Miss Grantham's mind, for he was confident that the figure in the picture had been merely a distorted semblance of one of the pictures on the wall.
In fact, it could not be anything else, for he would take his oath that when he made the picture there was in the room no living person other than himself.
This rational solution of the matter thoroughly satisfied Mr. Grantham, and he dismissed the subject from his mind; but his daughter, although saying nothing, remained skeptical. Indeed, the photographer's use of the term "spirit pictures" had given rise to en entirely new set of conjectures in her brain.
Although Farthingale, wider the seal of the oaths with which he had bound himself, was able to tell her very little concerning the knowledge he had acquired at Tso-ri-niah, she was aware that he was an adept, thoroughly acquainted with the laws which govern the occult phenomena of the oriental mahatmas.
Might it not he, she asked herself, that the doctor, recalling the penchant of modern newspapers for the illustration of all places connected in any way with the details of a sensational occurrence, had, though absent in the body, held his astral self continually in the room in order to secure the very result which had been obtained, and thus assure her that he was still in the land of the living—perhaps furnish her with a clue to the mystery of his disappearance?
Marjorie, inheriting much of her father's temperament, had all her life been a scoffer at theosophy, spiritualism, and the kindred cults which seek to explain life on other than a material basis; but in her present extremity she was willing to grasp at anything which promised a solution to the baffling enigma.
At any rate, she decided, it could do no harm to investigate. Of one thing she was assured, and that was that if Edward's spirit were in that room, and capable of revealing itself to any one, it would be to her.
Accordingly, without stating her purpose to the other members of the family, she seized upon her maid and hurried at once to Farthingale's apartments.
Arrived there, they found Kumar Sabhu, as usual, guarding the door.
In fact, as the newspapers had noted, the fidelity of this pagan servitor to his trust was something almost pathetic. Night or day he never left his post, constantly on the watch in case his master should return and require his services.
He salaamed deeply as Miss Grantham approached; but before he made any move to open the door he fixed his glittering yellow eyes full upon hers.
"Alas, missee," his tone was low, but distinct, vibrant with an electric force, "the room is empty. The Doctor Sahib is still not there."
Again when he had flung open the door he repeated in mournful accents: "The room is quite empty. Behold. What your eyes look for, alas, they will not find."
It was true. Not a semblance of the presence that she sought was Marjorie able to descry.
With intent and eager glance she searched every nook and corner of the room. All in vain.
Perhaps the light was too vivid for her to detect the nebulous, astral form? She closed the blinds before the windows. But still—nothing!
The furniture she had remarked in the newspaper illustration, the curtains, the hangings, the pictures upon the wall; elsewhere only vacant avenues of space, empty and untenanted.
The dust motes danced in the sunshine where it penetrated the interstices between the shutters; a captive fly buzzed noisily against the window pane; but not a sight nor sound, not even that fugitive sixth sense which transcends the world material, betrayed to her within the room a hint of the shadowy occupant she had seen so plainly revealed in the picture.
As the camera had caught it, the presence had been just beneath where her own portrait hung upon the wall, and she peered earnestly in that direction, now with half closed lids, now with eyes wide open, in an eager endeavor to discover something of what she sought, even though it were merely the barest outline.
All futile and unavailing! The portrait smiled down upon her. Beneath it her eyes could discern nothing more than the vase of roses which Farthingale always kept there.
She gave a sudden gasp and clutched at her breast to still the tumultuous beating of her heart.
Farthingale had been absent two full weeks; yet the roses in the vase were fresh—fresh as though they had just been clipped from their parent stems.
QUICK as a flash Marjorie turned upon the Hindoo, who had been obsequiously following in her footsteps as she moved about the room.
"Kumar," she demanded, pointing an accusing finger at the flowers, "how does it come that those roses are so fresh?"
If the valet had a guilty conscience, he concealed it well. For just a moment he seemed startled at the question, although no more than naturally so in view of her sudden vehemence. Then he answered glibly enough:
"The roues? Ah, missee, I place them fresh every day, in case, peradventure, the Doctor Sahib should return. Were he to come back and learn that I had been negligent in this one thing, he would scorch me with a very tempest of anger."
It was a thoroughly reasonable explanation, and Marjorie would probably have dropped the matter without another thought had not a cool, steady voice from behind the Hindoo broken in upon their conversation just at this moment—
"That is a lie, Kumar," it said, "and you know it. I have been here every day since Dr. Farthingale's disappearance, and this is the first time I have ever seen fresh flowers in that vase. Yesterday I happened particularly to notice them, and the roses then were brown and withered."
The speaker was Ditson, who had entered the room unobserved, just in time to overhear the valet's ready assertion and to controvert it
Kumar wheeled like lightning, and cast one glance of concentrated rage at the shrewd reporter. Then the impassive mask settled down again upon his features.
"The sahib is mistaken," he said calmly. "It may be that distracted by my anxiety concerning the Doctor Sahib I have on one or two occasions failed to replace the flowers. Yet I see no cause in that for the sahib to question my words. If it was not I who put the flowers there, may I ask him who he thinks it was? And what reason could I have had for doing so, other than the one I have given?"
He finished with a humble bow; but on his lips there was a bland smile of triumph as though he said to his questioner: "Answer me that, if you can."
"Nevertheless, Miss Grantham," muttered Ditson in an aside to Marjorie, "it is an extremely suspicious circumstance, and may turn out to be a most important clue. I have had my doubts about Master Kumar for some time, and hereafter I intend to keep a close watch on him. Let the matter pass now, though. We must not permit him to see that we are on to his curves, or he will be on his guard."
Then he added aloud: "May I ask what you are doing here this morning?"
In a few words she told him of the peculiar phenomenon of the "spirit picture," and Ditson was plainly impressed with the recital.
"'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio,'" he quoted. "I learn more and more every day, Miss Grantham, that it doesn't do to sneer at things simply because one doesn't understand them. There may be more hi this matter than appears on the surface."
His keen interest was shown by the manner in which he made her go over the room once more.
Together they tried all the varying effects of different degrees of light and shade; but his attempts proved no more successful than had hers. No trace could they detect of any presence in the room other than their own and the Hindoo's.
Suddenly Ditson stopped short and slapped his thigh,
"How stupid of me!" he exclaimed. "I might have thought of that."
"What do you mean?" she asked wonderingly.
"The operator failed to see any figure when he took the photograph, did he not?"
"And its presence was only discovered when the negative was developed?"
"Well, don't you see, then, that the apparition, if there is one, is evidently invisible to eyes of flesh, being only revealed by the camera?"
"Oh, I understand," she cried with quick comprehension. "You mean that we must re-photograph the room."
"Exactly. I wonder if Farthingale had such a thing as a camera around here anywhere?"
"Certainly he did, a very fine one. Kumar, where is the Doctor Sahib's picture machine?"
The Hindoo looked as though he wished to refuse her request; but finally brought out the apparatus, and grudgingly indicated to Ditson the location of the closet which the doctor had fitted up as a dark room.
Ditson was a very fair amateur photographer, and in a surprisingly short space of time he had the room taken, and, with Miss Grantham, was in the dark room busily engaged upon the development of his plate.
Together they bent over it in the dull gleam from the ruby lamp and watched excitedly as the dark shadows began to take form upon the silvery film.
Finally Ditson held it up to the lamp, and, giving a cry of elation, passed it over to Marjorie. Almost snatching it from his hand, she threw open the door and held it up against the light of day.
The figure she had looked for rewarded her. Invisible his presence might be to mortal sight; but the unerring eye of the camera showed Farthingale to be indubitably there.
He lay stretched out upon a divan, apparently in a profound slumber, his very manner of repose a proof of his identity. No one else could have counterfeited that peculiar attitude gained by years of sleeping upon the bare ground.
At the sight, Marjorie dropped the plate clattering to the floor and impulsively ran towards the couch. But her eager fingers swept only the empty air.
The place occupied by Farthingale in the picture was to mortal sense filled only with nothingness.
"What—where—why—" she gasped, groping bewilderedly about in her search, while Ditson, scarcely less dumbfounded, stood with open mouth and wide staring eyes in the center of the room.
The voice of Kumar struck upon their ears. He had picked up the negative from the floor where Marjorie had dropped it, and was now surveying the plate in evident consternation.
"What devil's trick is this?" he exclaimed sharply. "The Doctor Sahib is not here. It is witchcraft."
Marjorie paid no heed to him.
"Another photograph," she demanded excitedly of Ditson. "We must find out what this means."
The Hindoo dashed by her to the couch whereon the camera had shown the form of his missing master, and passed his hands rapidly over and about the place.
"See," he cried triumphantly. "It is witchcraft that the picture machine plays, I tell you. I beg that it be tried no more."
All the time his nimble fingers were flying to and fro. Were it not absurd, one would have declared that he was untying knots and loosening cords. Now he stood upright, glaring fixedly at Miss Grantham and the reporter.
"Ah!" he shrieked, at the same time pointing to a spot above the camera. "Look! Look! There is the sahib's ghost!"
Involuntarily their glance followed his, and, floating in the air above them, they beheld a spectral apparition, a flickering presentment of the missing man, with bloodless end emaciated face and fast closed eyes, the features of a corpse.
And even as their gaze was held by the awesome sight, Kumar, uttering a wild howl of affright, charged past them through the door.
Just as he turned the corner. Miss Grantham caught a glimpse of his fleeting form. She could almost have sworn that his arms were held as though he carried a heavy burden.
Down the hall they could hear him speeding. Fainter and fainter his voice came back to them.
He was crying: "I have nothing. I hold nothing!" Then his tones died away in the distance.
Ditson and his companion turned to look again for the apparition; but it, too, had faded from their view.
The reporter was trembling like a leaf. He was utterly unnerved: a cold sweat stood out on his forehead in great drops. He started for the door.
"I've seen lots of awful sights," he gasped; "but this beats me. I'm going—"
A sadden intuition flashed to the brain of Marjorie Grantham.
"Not yet," she cried with quick determination, seizing the terrified newspaper man by the coat sleeve and forcibly detaining him. "I understand at last. Oh, that vile Kumar! Come on," she added briskly. "We have no time to lose. Our business is to rescue Dr. Farthingale before they have an opportunity to do him any further hurt."
"But I don't understand," stammered Ditson, all the nerve taken out of him.
"It is not necessary that you should understand." —impatiently— "It is quite enough that I do. Come on," and hurrying to the telephone in the hall she called up police headquarters with a request that a man be immediately sent to watch the Thibetan curio shop and note particularly any person who might enter or depart from it.
Then, impetuously bundling her companion into a cab, she set off with him for the same destination as fast as the promise of a trebled fare could induce their jehu to pilot them through the streets.
As it was Sunday, they had for the most part a clear course, unimpeded by the trucks and vans of ordinary week-day traffic. A soft, warm sunlight fell across the asphalted streets, and the people returning from church and the strolling pedestrians on the sidewalk arrayed in holiday garb turned to gaze curiously at their reckless pace.
Once or twice a policeman raised his club, and the driver would pull up until a friendly corner had intervened; then on again as furiously as before.
While they raced along thus, Miss Grantham condescended to explain her course of reasoning to her companion.
"You have heard of these Hindoo fakirs, have you not," she asked, "who before one's very eyes and without the aid of any appliances or paraphernalia are able to grow a large tree from a tiny seed within the space of a few minutes; or, by throwing a rope into the empty air climb up it out of sight; or, after cutting an assistant into mincemeat with their swords, restore him to life, whole and unharmed? For hundreds of years people have witnessed these tricks and have marveled at them, utterly unable to discover any satisfactory explanation."
"Yes, I know."
"But did you never hear how the real solution was evolved; that two Englishmen, while observing the pretended miracles, endeavored to picture them, one by sketching what he saw happening before him, the other by pressing the button of his camera? When the pictures were completed the sketches displayed the mystifying performance exactly as they had seen it; out the photographs showed nothing more than a ragged Hindoo standing alone, while he glared and made passes at his audience with his hands."
"Oh, I see," interposed the reporter. "Hypnotism."
"Exactly. And it is the same imposition which Kumar and his rascally confederates have played upon all of us. Dr. Farthingale was in that room this morning. He has been there all the time. We were simply prevented by hypnotic influence from beholding him."
"Then you think that when Kumar dashed from the room this morning he carried the doctor with him?"
"But why should you believe that he will take his prisoner to the curio shop?"
"Ah, that is where my feminine intuition guides me. I don't know how I know it; but I am as certain that Kumar is in league with the Thibetans, and that Dr. Farthingale will be found in their shop, as I was that the photographing of the doctor's room would give us a clue to his whereabouts."
By this time they had arrived at the dingy little street far down in the Syrian quarter, where Oshinima and Karana had set up their establishment.
A "plain-clothes man" who had been unostentatiously lounging in a doorway across from the shop recognized Miss Grantham and crossed over to meet them.
"No one has come in or gone out," he informed her in a low tone, "except Kumar Sabhu, the doctor's valet, and he came rattling up in a cab about Ave minutes ago, driving like all possessed. The funny part of it, though, was that he didn't get out right away; but sat there hi the cab, hollering to them dagoes on the inside, tellin' 'em that he didn't have nothin' in his arms, and all the time lookin' square at me.
"I watched him when he got out of the cab, and it was true, he didn't have nothin'. Yet, if my eyes hadn't told me so, I'd have sworn from the way he walked that he was carryin' a heavy load."
"You see," said Miss Grantham, turning to Ditson with conviction, "my intuitions have not led me astray. Now, officer," gaily addressing the detective, "get ready to claim that reward for the rescue of Dr. Farthingale, for in less than ten minutes you are going to have him safely in your possession."
Bewildered and at a loss to comprehend, the policeman followed the girl and the reporter into the shop.
As they entered the door, however, all three were stopped by a cry of awful horror, and a moment later Kumar Sabhu came rushing towards them.
"Oh, missee, missee," he shrieked as he caught sight of Marjorie, "they have killed him! They have slain my master. Oh, the devils! The wicked, wicked devils!" He broke out into an excited torrent of curses and execrations—half English and half Hindoo.
"Here, here," interrupted the policeman, roughly shaking him by the arm. "Quit your raving and tell us what's the matter."
"Come then," returned the valet. "See for yourself."
And trembling and moaning he conducted them to the back part of the store, where lay piled up a heterogeneous mass of merchandise—prayer-wheels, copper censers, jars of incense-sticks, robes of silk, inlaid screens, polished tabourets, grinning idols, and jeweled swords. On the ground beside this heap was a loose bale of matting, one fold of which had been thrown over some object which lay beneath.
Reaching down, Kumar threw this back and disclosed to their horror stricken eyes the form of Farthingale.
The missing man was found at last, but in what awful plight!
His cold and stiffened form was weltering in a pool of half congealed gore, while the ruby drops still slowly oozed from more than a hundred stabs.
The body was cut and hacked by knives as though his foes had not been satisfied with the mere taking of his life, but with vindictive ferocity had desired to wreak their vengeance on his helpless corpse.
IT was truly a piteous and a fearful sight. No wonder that as Kumar looked he broke forth again into his long drawn wail of woe, or that Marjorie Grantham, with one glance at the ghastly spectacle, sank swooning to the floor.
Even the detective and the newspaper man, inured though they were to scenes of blood, were visible shaken.
"Good God!" muttered Ditson, bending over the corpse as if to seek an answer from that silent frame. "Who could have done this awful thing?"
"Who?" ejaculated Kumar, looking up at him, his face working with passion, his eyes glowing like live coals. "Who but those Thibetan dogs? They have stolen him from his home and brought him here to slay him! They were here but just now; they must still be close at hand! Come, let us lay hands upon them before they get away!"
He snatched up a short dagger from the pile of goods beside him and sprang quickly up the stairs towards the second floor, the detective with drawn revolver following closely at his heels.
The several floors were thoroughly investigated in turn; but all in vain. No trace of the fugitives could be found.
Up through the building Kumar ranged like a hunting dog, nostrils distended, eyes flashing, tense to spring as soon as he should sight his quarry.
Not a single alcove, closet, or coign of concealment escaped his rapid glance. Yet he covered the space almost at a run, putting the burly officer hard to it to keep up with his lithe movements.
At last they reached the attic, a bare, low ceiled loft where one had to stoop to avoid contact with the rafters.
"Ah!" exclaimed Kumar in a tone of bitter disappointment, at the same time pointing to the open trap door in the roof, which plainly indicated the manner of the Thibetans' departure. A hasty survey from it snowed how easily flight could have been taken across the roofs, and a descent effected to the ground by any one of half a dozen avenues.
"No use to follow 'em any further now," observed the detective philosophically. "With the start they've got, we'll have to have assistance to round 'em up."
Returning to the level, he sent in an immediate report to headquarters.
When he and the Hindoo returned to the curio shop, Marjorie Grantham, under the ministrations of Ditson and her maid, was just regaining consciousness. Her eyes as they opened fell upon Kumar, and instantly an expression of the utmost abhorrence came over her face.
"You wretch! You traitor I Why do you torture me thus?" she cried hysterically. "I demand that you immediately remove your spell from my eyes and give me back my lover!"
The valet gazed at her in amazement.
"Missee, missee," he exclaimed, "you ask for what is impossible. Can you not see that the life of the Doctor Sahib has departed? Is Kumar the great Shiv himself that he can restore the dead to life again?"
"He is not dead!" she shrieked in hot denial. "It merely appears so to us because we are under your wicked influence."
Then she began to plead: "Oh, Kumar, be merciful and give him back to me. See, I beg yon upon my bended knees. What have I ever done, or what has Edward done, that you should desire to keep us apart? If either of us has wronged you, you shall have full amends. I will forgive all the previous suffering you have caused us. But this I cannot bear. It is too awful, too horrible!"
She broke into a new fit of wild, shuddering weeping as she glanced towards the shrouded form upon the floor.
"Missee," replied Kumar earnestly and gravely, "if it were in my power to bring him back, no one would have to ask me to do it. But, believe me, no such power lies within me. I tell you, the Doctor Sahib is dead."
"You lie!" she cried fiercely—"lie now as you did when you told me he was not in the room where you kept him so cleverly concealed!"
The Hindoo involuntarily started at her words and opened his lips as if about to speak; but on reflection evidently decided to hold his peace.
His action was not, however, lost upon Marjorie.
"Ah, I surprised you there, did I not?" she said quickly. "You were not aware how thoroughly your plot had been uncovered, were you? You might as well cease your deceptions, Kumar, for let me tell you that, no mailer what further tricks you may attempt to play, you can never again induce me to believe other than that Dr. Farthingale is alive and well."
She turned towards Ditson, as if for corroboration. "You, at least, must agree that I am right," she added.
"By George, I believe you are!" he cried, a new light breaking in upon him. "I see it all now; Mr. Smooth, here," indicating Kumar with a wave of his hand, "is simply trying to work the same old game with a few fresh trimmings. But we'll soon put a spoke in that wheel. Sergeant," turning to the detective, "is there a photographer handy around anywhere in this neighborhood?"
"Yes, sir; one right up the street. Second stairway, this side of the corner."
"Good. I'll have him here in five minutes. That's a great idea of yours, Miss Grantham. And, sergeant, in the meantime, if I were you, I would stick pretty close to that dark skinned friend of ours. I have an impression that before we get through with this affair we shall discover that he is the prime mover in the blackest conspiracy that this old town ever saw hatched out."
All this was delivered over his shoulder as he made for the door; and once in the street Ditson fairly sprinted along the block and up the narrow stairway which led to a diminutive studio.
He almost collided with a couple of Chinamen who were just making their exit from the laundry next door.
The proprietor of the photographic establishment, an excitable little Frenchman, was about sitting down to his dinner, and started to make voluble explanations that he did no work on Sunday; but Ditson was not in the mood for parley.
Seizing the astonished photographer by the arm, he dragged him forcibly from the table, and, unheeding his indignant protests, carried him off willy-nilly to the Thibetan emporium.
"What do you see?" Ditson demanded of his captive, throwing back with a flourish the covering which concealed the mutilated body.
The Frenchman's ill temper at hit treatment was swallowed up in horror.
"Mon Dieu!" he shuddered. "Et ees awful!"
"What do you see?" insisted Ditson.
"What do I see? Et ees one corpse— a dead man!"
The reporter gave a hearty laugh. His merriment startled the others, in the face of that ghastly spectacle jarring upon their sensibilities like a sacrilege.
Yet Ditson was so thoroughly convinced of the soundness of his theories that to him the little Frenchman's awed dismay was distinctly ludicrous.
"I'll bet you a hundred that he's as much alive as you are," he responded gleefully.
The photographer stared at him with evident doubts of his sanity.
"But, monsieur," he protested, "hees tête—what you call eet?—hees head, eet ees almost dissevered! Eet ees impossible that a man still lives, thus nearly headless!"
"All right; have it your own way. But I'll show yon that your camera will tell a different story. Hurry up and get your machine, and turn us out a photograph of him as fast as you can. He's not a very pretty subject at present, I'll admit; but you'll find out that he shows up better in the completed picture."
Impressed by Ditson's manner, and overcome with curiosity, the Frenchman made no further mention of his scruples; but speedily fetched his apparatus, and made the desired exposure.
Then the whole party, with the exception of Kumar and the detective, adjourned to the studio to await the result.
While the operator busied himself in his dark room, clattering his appliances and chemicals about in a veritable frenzy, Marjorie sat white faced and shaken in the outer office.
Ditson, thoroughly optimistic as to the outcome of the test, was trying to cheer her up.
"Don't give way, now, Miss Grantham," he said soothingly, "not now when we've got the whole matter sifted down and everything is just about to turn out all right. Confronted by such proofs as we shall give him, Kumar will be forced to release the doctor from this spell. Why, just think, you and he will be eating dinner together tonight, and the whole complication will be exposed."
"I know, I know," she responded, striving to be brave. "I am as certain as yon that it is nothing but a trick, an illusion; and yet"—she broke off with an agitated tremor—"that cruel sight has completely unnerved me. I cannot shut it out from my eyes."
"It was damnable," assented Ditson savagely. "If that Hindoo gets his deserts, he'll go to Sing Sing for the rest of his life. I'd like to be the judge that sentences him. Still, remember, Miss Grantham, that, horrible as it was, it was a mere phantasm, no more real than a painted picture, and that Dr. Farthingale is actually as alive and well as you or I."
Marjorie's father, who had been summoned by the reporter as soon as the headless body was discovered, arrived on the scene at this juncture, and Ditson was obliged to rehearse for his benefit alt the events of that sensational morning.
"I swear the thing goes beyond me," commented the old man in hopeless bewilderment; "but, my dear," addressing Marjorie, "as Mr. Ditson says, the matter looks like a piece of hocus pocus, a kind of conjuring performance, so I see no reason for you to be alarmed or downcast. Now that we've struck the right scent, we'll have Edward out of that rascal's hands in no time."
"Oh, I wish the complete assurance of that were already here," she moaned nervously, wringing her hands. "I cannot rid myself of the fear that despite all our hopes we may yet be crushed with disappointment."
The little Frenchman had been bustling about in his retreat at a great rate for the past few moments, and even as she spoke he opened the door and stepped out into the room with the dripping negative in his hand.
Marjorie sprang towards him with a low cry of eagerness; but he avoided her and addressed himself to Ditson.
There was a puzzled expression on his face.
"Monsieur assured me that the corpse in the curio shop—" he began; but before he could finish his sentence the reporter bad snatched the plate from him and was holding it up towards the light, anxiously scanning its shadow flecked surfaces.
Marjorie and her father crowded up behind him to gaze over his shoulder.
"My God!" exclaimed the reporter, and, hearing a gasp behind him, turned just in time to see Marjorie Grantham sink into her father's arms.
The picture on the negative was no different from that which had met their horror stricken eyes when Kumar's affrighted cry had disclosed for them the grisly secret of the curio shop.
With exact fidelity the camera had reproduced every detail of that tragic scene—the dingy shop, the mass of oriental merchandise piled up to the low ceiling, and in the foreground the huddled, mutilated figure in a pool of blood.
Scarcely waiting to see that proper attention was being accorded to Miss Grantham, Ditson tore down the steps and along the sidewalk to the little shop.
Captain O'Hara had just arrived upon the scene with a squad of his best detectives.
"Chief," said Ditson breathlessly, pointing an accusing finger at the Hindoo, "hold that man at all hazards. I charge him with the murder of Dr. Farthingale!"
THE startling dénouement which had come as a culmination to the week of perplexity raised public excitement to the highest pitch.
An especially sympathetic interest centered in the condition of Miss Grantham, for it was reported that she had never rallied from the shock induced by the terrible revelations at the curio shop; but, one paroxysm succeeding another, she had finally passed into the raving delirium of brain fever.
The doctors who were in attendance gravely informed her father that, even should her superb vitality save her life, it was exceedingly doubtful that she would regain her reason.
There was not the slightest question in the popular mind that Kumar Sabhu was the perpetrator of the dastardly murder, or that the Thibetans were his accomplices.
Every effort was made to apprehend the latter; but again was Captain O'Hara's bureau obliged to accept defeat, for, from the time the fugitives had passed through the trap door in the roof of their establishment all traces of them was as completely effaced as though they had never existed.
"I've worked out many a puzzler," said Captain O'Hara distractedly, "and I've known many a rogue who was able to cover up his tracks; but for people to just naturally disappear off the face of the earth, I never saw a case that could begin to compare with this.
"I've got the Hindoo, at any rate," he thought to comfort himself, and the "third degree" to which Kumar was subjected at police headquarters was a model of rigorous inquisition; but the natural secretiveness of his race stood the valet in good stead, and he withstood all their questioning with a stoical impassivity, divulging nothing which threw the faintest glimmer of light upon the mystery.
Consequently, the public impatiently awaited the judicial examination, and when it was held, the fifth day after the tragedy, an eager crowd fairly fought for admission to the court room.
Owing to the enforced absence of Miss Grantham, by far the most important witness was Oliver Ditson.
Giving his name, age, and residence, he stated by way of introduction that he was a newspaper man and had become interested in the Farthingale mystery through his efforts to elucidate it in the regular course of his profession and on behalf of the paper which he represented.
Then he recapitulated the discoveries he had made at the Raines law hotel and at the apartment house which had first led to the consideration of the two Thibetans as factors in the problem, and told with some satisfaction of the manner in which the authorities had permitted the wily pair to hoodwink and baffle them.
As for himself, however, he stated he had never lost faith in his hypothesis that they were at the root of the matter, except that on a reexamination of all the circumstances he had been forced to the conclusion that they had received assistance from within the Omar Khayyam.
By a process of eliminating all residents of the apartment house who were beyond the range of suspicion, he had finally narrowed his list down to Kumar and the hall boy, and of these two for obvious reasons he had preferred to regard the former as the guilty party.
Asked what were his "obvious reasons," he pointed out the hall boy's youth and inexperience, which he said would inevitably have forced him to weaken under the searching examination to which he had been subjected; but added that what had most influenced him in reaching his opinion was the discovery of the Hindoo charm.
This, it had been proven, was not the property of either of the Thibetans. "Who else was there then in the house to whom it could possibly belong?"
Ditson endeavored in every possible way to induce Kumar to acknowledge his ownership of the bauble; but had to confess that the Hindoo had been too wily for him.
Unshaken in his belief, however, that he had struck the right trail, he had set himself to watch the valet, and it was while carrying on this espionage that he had overheard Kumar explaining the circumstance of the fresh roses in the vase, and by his prompt appearance upon the scene had been able to controvert the falsehood.
"What was the reason for that falsehood, Mr. Ditson?" interrupted the court at this juncture.
"I do not understand that myself, your honor," replied the witness. "I have simply alluded to it to show that the Hindoo did lie in one instance, and hence may be justly supposed to have lied all the way through. What connection there may have been between the placing of fresh flowers in his room, and the abduction of Dr. Farthingale, I have yet to discover."
Continuing his testimony, Ditson related the circumstances of the photographing of the empty room and its astonishing sequel; the trip of Miss Grantham and himself to the curio shop, and the appalling discovery there made; the hopes aroused by Miss Grantham's theory of hypnotic delusion; the effort to verify these hopes by the employment of the French photographer, and finally the crushing disappointment which had come to them as a result of the test.
"A very remarkable sequence of events," commented the assistant district attorney who was conducting the examination. "Will you tell us now, Mr. Ditson, the course of reasoning you followed by which you applied these circumstances as indicating the guilt of the accused?"
The question was manifestly an improper one, and the lawyer could not conceal the flicker of surprise which crossed his countenance when the opposing counsel gave no sign of entering an objection.
In fact, Kumar's attorney had so far betrayed but little zeal in his management of the case. He had shown a very scant interest in the testimony adduced, not even taking the trouble to jot down notes, and cross examining only in the most cursory fashion.
So, now, while Ditson presented an utterly incompetent mass of theory and supposition, he leaned back in his chair with closed eyes and folded hands.
"I took as a starting point," began the reporter, airing his views with some show of pride at his own acuteness, "the well known fact that Dr. Farthingale was a member of a society of mystics in the east, and that to a desire for vengeance upon him, as a transgressor of their laws, must be set down the motive for the present crime.
"Following out this line of inquiry, the questions naturally suggest themselves: How did this society become cognizant of the doctor's infraction, or proposed infraction, of their rules? What link of communication could there possibly be between New York and Thibet?
"We know that Kumar Sabhu, and Kumar Sabhu alone, accompanied Dr. Farthingale throughout his entire wanderings in the 'Forbidden Country,' and that not so much in the capacity of a servant as in that of a trusted friend and confidential adviser. What more natural than to infer that the valet followed his masters example, and also allied himself with the esoteric sect?
"Assuming this to be true, it is then easy to understand how Kumar, more faithful than his companion to the obligations they had both undertaken, would betray Farthingale's intentions, and make easy the task of the emissaries sent out as avenging angels.
"He was thoroughly acquainted with America and American detective methods, and knew that any attempt to transport Farthingale from the city or to accomplish his destruction here would inevitably be spotted by the police; so he contrived a subtle plan by which it should be made to appear that the doctor was abducted, whereas in reality he should be held a prisoner in his rooms, effectually concealed by the valet's hypnotic powers until such time as it would be safe to accomplish his actual removal.
"The discoveries I made of a method of travel between the Raines law hotel and the apartment house, the suspicious departure of the Thibetans from the hotel, even the dropping of the Hindoo charm upon the roof in a place where it was certain to be found, I regard as parts of an intricate plot contrived for the sole purpose of mystifying the police and throwing them off the track.
"The scheme as planned was admirably executed, and would, I have no doubt, have entirely succeeded had it not been for Miss Grantham's clever perception, and the resultant discovery that Dr. Farthingale was still in his own room.
"Driven to desperation by this disclosure, what more natural than that Kumar should at once seek his fellow conspirators, carrying his prisoner with him, and that the three, realizing that their plan had failed, should then and there decide upon their victim's death.
"That, sir," concluded Ditson, "is in my opinion the only plausible explanation which will account for all the circumstances."
Counsel for the defense half opened his sleepy eyes.
"What time of day was it when you and Miss Grantham photographed Farthingale's room?" he asked uninterestedly.
"Half after eleven," promptly answered Ditson.
"And you are certain from the evidence of the camera that the doctor was then in his apartments?"
"Let me ask you then, what time was it that you discovered his body in the curio shop?"
"About an hour and a half later; probably at one o'clock."
"That is all," said the lawyer shortly, and again he leaned back in his chair and closed his heavy lids.
A ripple of amazement pervaded the court room.
Was there no defense whatever to be interposed? Was the case literally to be allowed to go by default?
"I guess he thinks it such a 'cinch' agin' the prisoner that there ain't no use goin' to any bother," was the whispered comment of one spectator.
"And he ain't far wrong at that," replied an outspoken neighbor. "If I ever seen a guilty man in all my life, that there Hindoo is it."
Such seemed the opinion of the entire throng, and many were the black looks directed at the luckless Kumar.
"If they don't send him to the chair," said the auditor who had before expressed his views, "they might as well abolish cap'tal punishment an' turn Sing Sing into a Sunday school."
Kumar, however, seemed undisturbed. He continued amusing himself by abstractedly blowing paper wads through a blow pipe he had fashioned of a bit of cardboard.
The police, the French photographer, and a number of minor witnesses corroborated the points of Ditson's story, and now the prosecutor aroused and bowed to the court.
"The State closes its case," he announced.
Kumar's lawyer straightened up, and a dull gleam came into his eyes.
"Call Dr. Grey and Dr. Morse," said he.
To each the same questions were asked, and in both cases identical answers were returned:
"You assisted in performing an autopsy on the 5th inst. upon the body of the late Dr. Farthingale?"
"How long after the discovery of the body was it when you viewed it?"
"About two hours; at just three o'clock, to be exact."
"State its condition at that time, please."
"It was frightfully mutilated. The head was almost severed from the trunk, and an effort had also been made to amputate the right arm at the elbow, but this was only half accomplished. Then the chest and back were covered with stab wounds made by a sharp instrument, probably a two edged dagger. There were thirty three of these stabs, averaging from an inch to an inch and a half in length, and from an inch to two inches in depth."
"Was this mutilation done before or after the death of the victim?"
"How long after?"
"Fully eight hours."
"What, then, was the cause of death?"
"An aneurysm of the heart of long standing."
When the first physician was examined, the spectators who had been breathlessly following the catechism broke at this point into a subdued murmur of bewildered surprise.
If this testimony were true, then Farthingale had not been murdered, but had died a natural death. The bottom had simply dropped out of the prosecutor's case.
That official, flushed with vexation, had arisen to his feet, and was shouting angry questions at the witness; but neither with him, nor later with the other doctor, was he able to shake their statements in the slightest degree.
Ditson seemed completely dumbfounded by the sudden turn of the testimony. Hie spoke excitedly to the district attorney, and a flush of manifest vexation burned upon his cheek.
He arose as if to leave the court room in disgust, when he was stopped by a Chinaman, who pushed his way through the throng and handed the reporter a note.
Ditson hurriedly examined the scrawl, and as he grasped its contents a complete change of expression came over his countenance.
He quickly drew the district attorney down to his side and held a sharp whispered conference with him. The newspaper man seemed to be vehemently urging some point, while the lawyer hesitated and demurred.
At last the attorney appeared to yield.
"Your honor," he said, addressing the court, "I had about concluded that this case was without foundation; but Mr. Ditson says he has just discovered some fresh evidence which he regards as of the highest importance and which he wishes to investigate. In order to give him the opportunity, I therefore ask for a continuance until tomorrow."
Kumar glanced up quickly and ceased playing for a moment with his blow pipe; but relapsed into his former stolid calm as his attorney took the floor.
"In that case," said the little lawyer with a sneer, "I also desire to present some new matter, something which I had not intended to touch upon at the present time."
ON the following day the little lawyer who had Kumar's interests in charge no longer bore his air of drowsy unconcern. His eyes burned with the fire of purpose, his stubby red mustache bristled, his whole being seemed charged with an electric energy.
He looked like a sinewy wildcat, tense crouched, ready to spring.
"Call George Washington," he cried.
There was almost a vindictive note in the sharp tone. Ditson started at his words, and a wondering, perplexed expression came to his eye.
His fingers played nervously with a newspaper which he held in his lap.
"I hardly think it necessary for the defense to introduce further testimony," interposed the magistrate.
It was evident that the court's mind was already made up and that the defendant would be discharged.
The little attorney was not to be denied, however.
"If your honor please," he replied firmly, "there is more in this case than appears upon the surface, and I must insist upon my witness."
So George Washington was duly sworn.
"You are employed as hall boy at the Omar Khayyam apartment house?"
"Yes, sah; been dar gwine on 'leben monfs now."
"Were you on duty there the night Dr. Farthingale disappeared?"
"Yas, sah; f'om six in de abenin' 'til ha'f pas' nine de next mawnin'."
"You were well acquainted with Dr. Farthingale?"
"Oh, yas, sah. I seen 'im free Dr fo' times ebery day."
"Did you see him come into the building that night?"
"Yas, sah. He come in at a quahtah a'ter ten."
"Did you see him go out again?"
"He nebber went out no mo'. Ef he had a went out, I couldn' a missed 'im."
It was the same story the boy had always told whenever questioned about the affair, and as Ditson perceived that nothing new was being elicited he relaxed the uneasy, listening attitude he had maintained ever since the witness mounted the stand.
"And that is all you know about this matter?" the lawyer asked suavely.
The negro's face was set and stubborn.
"Dat's ev'yfing, sah."
The lawyer raised his eyes meditatively to the ceiling and then slowly lowered them until they were leveled directly at George's face, holding his eyes steady with their menacing glare.
"Why, then"—the question came as though shot out of a gun—"why, then, did you say that you could tell a heap more about this case than you had if it was not money in your pocket to keep your mouth shut?
"I—I—" hesitated the boy. "Whoeber done say I tole 'em dat? I ain' neber done no sech t'ing."
"Oh, yes, you did. Now, answer me. No, don't look towards Mr. Ditson, but look at me. Didn't you tell George Jones, the other hall boy—"
The opposing lawyer was on his feet striving to object; but Washington had already weakened before the steady glance from those impelling eyes, and, shaking and trembling, was sobbing out: "I'll tell de trufe! I'll tell all 'bout it!"
"The witness will proceed," observed the court, leaning forward and showing a keen interest "The province of this examination, Mr. District Attorney, is to discover the truth, and not to shield any one, no matter who it may be."
"Well, then," resumed counsel, "you may tell, George, who it was that gave you this money for keeping your mouth shut."
Washington wavered and attempted to evade the point; but the lawyer was inexorable.
At last the boy gave a muttered answer. "It were Mistah Ditson," he said.
At the words, as though by a common impulse, every eye in the court room was turned upon the newspaper man. He cowered down into his seat and raised his newspaper before his face to shield him from their concentrated gaze.
"Just so," commented the little lawyer, nodding his head with satisfaction. "We are at last beginning to get at something definite. Now, George, you may go ahead and tell just what it was you saw or heard in the apartment house that night which you were paid not to reveal."
"Well, sah," the negro reluctantly complied, "it were 'bout 'leben o'clock Dr a little a'ter dat I done got a ring fo' ice-watah Tom Mistah Kingsbury's room, what's on the same flo' wid de doctah's an' Mistah Ditson's, ye know; an' w'en I goes up wid de pitchah, I done seen Dr. Fa'tingale jes' ez plain as I sees yo' dis minit."
"Where?" demanded the lawyer.
"Does I hab to tell dat?" he appealed to the court.
The magistrate nodded, and once more the question was repeated.
The boy's answer was so low as to be almost inaudible.
"A-comin' out'n de do' o' Mistah Ditson's room."
"And how much did you get for keeping this quiet?"
A hundred dollahs. Mistah Ditson, he come to me de nex' mawnin', an' he ax me ef I seen anyt'ing, an' w'en I tole 'im he says not to say nuffin' 'bout it kase it'd on'y git me into trouble, an' dat it didn' 'mount to shucks nohow. An' den he 'structed me w'at to say w'en de cops'd come bodderin' 'roun' an' axin' questions, an'—
"It's a lie! A damnable lie!"
Ditson's voice rose in angry protest. He had sprung to his feet, his face working with passion, his eyes aflame.
"Will you take the word of a lying nigger before mine?" he appealed hysterically to the crowd.
"Sit down, sir!" sternly ordered the court. "This matter shall be probed to the bottom. Proceed with your case," turning to the lawyer for the defense.
"Call Timothy Griscom."
Griscom was the photographer who had taken the picture of Farthingale's room which had been reproduced in Ditson's paper, and which had served to first arouse the belief in Marjorie Grantham's mind that her fiancé might still be in his apartments.
"Who developed the plate from which that illustration was taken?" was the question asked him.
"Was no one else in the room?"
"No one but Mr. Ditson. Come to think of it, he offered to develop that plate for me, and as he is an excellent amateur I let him start on it. When the figure commenced to appear, however, he showed it to me, and then I finished the work."
"Might it not have been possible for him to substitute another plate for the one you gave him to develop?"
"Possibly, perhaps; but hardly probable. I can conceive of no reason why he should have done so."
"You have nothing to do with motives. Confine yourself to answering my questions, please. Would it have been possible?"
"Now I desire to ask you as a photographer, if by a process of superimposition a figure of a man could not be introduced into the negative of an empty room so as to appear an integral part of the picture?"
"I do not think anything of the sort was done in this case," began the photographer. "In fact, I—"
"Nobody asked you what you thought. I want to know if the process I have described is practicable?"
"Yes," admitted the photographer unwillingly, "it can be done."
"Will you swear that such a superimposed plate was not substituted on you in this instance for the one which you took of Dr. Farthingale's room?"
The photographer waited a moment before he answered. "No," he said, "I cannot swear to it!"
Counsel for the defense arose to address the court.
"If your honor please," he said, "I think we have amply demonstrated that there is not the shadow of a reason for the further holding of my client, and I therefore confidently ask that he be discharged from custody. Before the court takes cognizance of my motion, however, I wish to be heard further, not on behalf of my client, but in the interests of justice.
"If your honor please, we listened yesterday to a highly interesting and entertaining exposition of an hypothesis, which was, it must be confessed however, largely unsupported by adequate facts. I now desire to present a counter theory, and I ask the court to note that most of my statements will be backed up by sworn testimony.
"I ask you to consider that George Washington, the hall boy, was bribed not to give full information in the police investigation of this case; that the same person who offered that bribe has shown the most extreme interest and energy in propounding theories to account for the mystery, and in tracing down a variety of persons whom he has charged with the abduction or murder of the missing man; that this same person, owing to his position and connections, was able to learn all intended action on the part of police and detectives, and was able, if he deemed it advisable, to forestall such action and render it of no avail; that, being skilled in photography, he was able by a palpable trick to create the phantom which so aroused Miss Grantham's hopes, and by a modification of the same trick to convince her that her missing lover was still in his apartments.
"Follow this man with me, if you will. I can picture him holding that final interview with Farthingale, craftily making the arrangements which would leave the faithful valet in the dark as to his master's departure; but which, if necessity arose, could be so twisted as to seem proofs of Kumar's guilt as strong as Holy Writ.
"Then he lures or abducts Farthingale from the building. How, we do not know. Whither, we do not know. We only know the efforts he has made to cover up his tracks.
"What are these? He learns that two Thibetans were lodging in a hotel close at hand, and for the benefit of the police constructs a cunning chain of evidence which points towards them as the perpetrators of a crime; but which in reality leads to naught.
"What is his purpose in all this, you ask? Plainly to befuddle the officers, and to gain time for his own aims.
"Once more the chase becomes too hot for him, or perhaps he is ready for his dénouement. The curtain rises, the lime light is turned upon the scene, and a new and daring conception in criminology is presented. With an elaborate paraphernalia of deception, he cruelly imposes upon a trusting woman, inducing her to lead him to the body of her murdered lover and forcing her to charge the crime upon this poor Hindoo.
"There is a conspiracy, if your honor please, a damnable and a dastardly one, and in presenting it as my theory I ask you to put faith in no hocus pocus of magic and oriental mystery; nothing save the deep design and the crafty scheming of one thorough paced villain.
"I do not at this time go so far as to assert that it is the true theory. I simply say it is far more probable, and better borne out by fact, than the one presented by the State.
"But if it is the true theory, then the man who did all this is the real murderer of Dr. Farthingale. If it is the true theory, that man "—he paused solemnly and pointed an accusing finger at the man in the corner of the court room—"that man, I say, is Oliver Ditson.
"As to his motive—"
"I bee that the attorney will go no farther," interrupted Ditson, rising to his feet and drawing a notebook from his pocket. "I shall show him something in a moment which I have no doubt will demonstrate even to him the futility of proceeding along the line he has adopted. I have here—"
He paused, and an expression of startled surprise swept across his features. He raised his hand to his mouth, and the next second pitched heavily forward on the floor, where he lay writhing and struggling in a convulsion.
Kumar was the first to reach his side, and quickly lifted his head; but Oliver Ditson had passed beyond the reach of any mortal aid. Even at that moment a last shudder passed through his frame, and he was gone.
The Hindoo opened his clenched fingers and drew out a little phial of prussic acid.
"See," he cried, holding it up. "The sahib preferred to die rather than to face exposure."
WITH the death of Ditson, the one possible avenue, as it seemed, by which a solution to the Farthingale mystery could be reached was forever closed.
For the public mind, fickle as always, had veered from its previous firm conclusion concerning Kumar's guilt to an equally positive belief that the arch plotter and real criminal was none other than the newspaper man.
His dramatic suicide appeared to all a clinching substantiation of the hypothesis advanced by Kumar's lawyer, for, as was aptly quoted on all sides that evening, "suicide is always confession."
In fact, of all the thousands in the great metropolis who were eagerly following the developments of this most remarkable case, there were practically only two persons who entertained the slightest doubt as to Ditson's culpability; and strangely enough these two were Captain O'Hara and Marjorie's father.
The skepticism of the policeman was perhaps not so difficult to understand, for it was hardly to be expected that he would readily accept a theory which presented him in the light of catspaw and dupe for a clever criminal; but old Hartley Grantham's attitude was more difficult of explanation.
Why, people wondered, should he of all men cling so persistently to the presumption of the dead reporter's innocence?
"I simply can't believe it of the boy," was the only answer he vouchsafed to the representations of his friends. "I knew his father too well to be readily convinced that the blood of a sneak, a coward, and a villain ran in Oliver's veins. He may be guilty; but he is no longer hero to defend himself, and until stronger proof is presented to me, I prefer to consider him square."
Yet, as already stated, he and the chief of detectives stood alone in this opinion. All the rest of the world credited Oliver Ditson, if not with the actual murder of Dr. Farthingale, at least with the responsibility for his disappearance, and thug indirectly of his death.
As for a motive, it was recalled that Oliver Ditson had for years been a suitor of Marjorie Grantham's, and that it was Farthingale's appearance upon the scene which had dashed all his hopes.
Such being the universal feeling, it was perhaps not strange that of all Ditson's acquaintances none came forward to pay the last offices to his remains.
Brilliant, facile, and clever though he was, he had never troubled himself to make an abiding friendship, and now, when he passed out of life with the shadow of disgrace upon him, it seemed as if there was no one to mourn him. His body lay unclaimed in a public undertaking shop.
Then it was that Hartley Grantham gave evidence of the faith which was in him.
"Let him be taken to my house," he said. "It is perhaps fitting that the funeral should be as quiet and unostentatious as possible; but for his father's sake, I propose to see that he has a decent burial."
Indeed the presence of death could add little to the gloom which had settled so thickly about the millionaire's magnificent residence, for the physicians were still unable to offer any tangible hope of Marjorie's recovery.
She lay in the same condition which she had maintained ever since being brought home from the photographer's studio, not violent or raving, but entirely unconscious of her surroundings, her eyes glazed, and, except in her fitful snatches of slumber, her head tossing restlessly from side to side, her voice ceaselessly iterating the one word, "Why?"
A trained nurse was constantly with her, and every expedient of medical skill was resorted to; but the great specialist announced that no change in her condition might be expected for three days, and until that time it was impossible to determine what the outcome would be.
So old Hartley Grantham, almost beside himself with grief and anxiety, was compelled to submit to a period of weary waiting.
He sat in his library that evening, unable to concentrate his mind upon anything except the sounds which came from the sick room, overcome by the fear which was tugging at his heart-strings.
In vain he strove to reassure himself with his knowledge of Marjorie's hardy constitution and superb physical endowment. The haunting dread which had seized him was not to be exorcised.
Consequently it was something of a relief to his strained faculties when there came a ring at the door bell and an announcement that Captain O'Hara wished to see him.
"Show the captain in," he said to the servant, and a moment later the burly chief of detectives entered the room.
"I beg your pardon for this intrusion, Mr. Grantham," he apologized; "but my men discovered a couple of matters today which I thought ought to be brought to your attention at once.
"Immediately after the inquest this morning I had both Farthingale's and Ditson's apartments searched once more. In the former we found the negative of the picture which Ditson and your daughter took of the empty room, and had it thoroughly examined by an expert photographer. He swears that it shows not the slightest trace of any monkeying with it, any—what was the word that lawyer used?"
"Yes, sir. Well, there was none of that done. So, as far as the photo goes, Ditson's skirts are clear. But, Mr. Grantham, under the carpet in his own rooms we found something which makes me more than half believe that you and I were mistaken, after all, and that Oliver Ditson was really at the bottom of the whole trouble."
The old man was evidently startled.
"What was it?" he asked sharply.
"This letter," returned the detective, producing from his inside pocket a missive in a torn envelope.
Grantham examined the letter carefully as it was handed over to him.
It consisted of several sheets of closely written note paper, and on the outside was the superscription, "Miss Marjorie Grantham."
"Why," exclaimed Grantham excitedly as he scanned this address, "this is Farthingale's handwriting!"
O'Hara nodded his head.
"It is a letter written by Farthingale," he said, "on the night he disappeared, and evidently intrusted to Ditson to deliver. That it was not so delivered, but was opened, read, and then concealed is what has caused me to reverse my previous opinion, and to fear that Kumar's lawyer was right when he charged Ditson with the crime."
"Good God!" gasped the old man as the damning effect of this new evidence grew upon him. "It seems impossible to doubt. Oh, how could any man be so black a villain!"
"Read the letter," returned O'Hara grimly, "and you will think him blacker still!"
Grantham adjusted his eyeglasses and strove to follow the written lines; but the revelation he had just received had so shaken him that he was unable to grasp their import.
"Read it for me, captain," he said. "I can't make out what it means."
The detective took the letter from him and impressively read as follows:
"My Dearest Marjorie:
"I am writing this message to you in a spirit of the bitterest rebellion; and were it not that your loyalty and constancy give me hope for the future, I could not accept the trial which Fate has so cruelly and unexpectedly cast to my lot.
"I see my cup of joy dashed from me just as it was lifted to my lips, and the crowning happiness of my life, the dear reality of at last calling you my wife, postponed for months, perhaps for years.
"I hardly know what I am writing. My brain seems stunned, stupefied, palsied by the staggering surprise of the blow which has been dealt me. I have been living in a fool's paradise, and now, without a word of warning, the veil of self deception is suddenly rent from before my eyes and I learn the appalling truth.
"Oh, fool, idiot, dolt that I have been! Hear my story, Marjorie, and, if you can, forgive me. At least believe me innocent of intentionally deceiving you.
"Some years ago—it matters not how or when, for the story is a long one and my time is limited—in my insistent quest for knowledge I associated myself with a band of esoteric zealots, the primal article of whose creed was celibacy. In entering their ranks I bound myself by a frightful oath, pledging to them in case of my apostasy the blood not only of myself, but of the woman who should innocently share in my transgression.
"I thought little of the nature of my bond at the time, for women had ever possessed but little attraction for me, and did not think it possible I should ever care to marry.
"I wandered over the world, mingled with peoples of all races, and still had no regret. Then, one evening, I saw you. And with my first glance at your lovely, spiritual face I realized the awful imbecility of the step which I had taken.
"The gates of paradise stood open before me, yet I dared not enter; for, barring me out was the inexorable naming sword of a vengeance which I knew was absolute.
"Certain as I was of this—believe me, Marjorie—had the menace been only to myself I would at that time have risked everything, content to die if I could but once have clasped you in my arms and called you mine. But even the ardor of my passion could not minimize to my mind the hazard for you; could not make me forget that when I spoke the words which made you my wife I pronounced sentence of doom upon you as surely as though I were then to stab you to the heart.
"I strove to tear my love from my breast, to devote myself to my former pursuits, forget you, and go back once more to bury myself in the wilds. It was impossible.
"Hopeless as the case was, I could not cease loving you, I could not bring myself to leave you.
"Then, almost by magic as it seemed to me, the clouds were suddenly lifted. By chance one evening, in an effort to divert my thoughts, I picked up for study an old manuscript code of the laws of the order to which I belonged, and accidentally discovered concealed within its pages, as is the oriental fashion, an acrostic or cipher which apparently nullified for me the oath which I had taken, and left me free to win and woo you.
"This cipher, as I interpreted it, set forth that as the laws of man were powerless to rule the sea, so all that was necessary to abrogate and set at naught the edicts of the order was to set the sea as a barrier between the order and the object of its displeasure. In other words, all that a member had to do to be absolved from all his pledges was to cross the ocean.
"So, then, I thought to myself in a transport of thanksgiving, I am already free.
"I immediately despatched to the kanpo, or head of the order, an intimation of the discovery which I had made, and announced to him my intention of disregarding my oath. The next day I pleaded my cause to you, was accepted, and since then my life has been a reign of bliss.
"I never told you of all this, Marjorie; for I fancied that it was all a sealed book, and I did not wish needlessly to alarm or trouble you. I thought my security absolute; but now I see that I was experiencing a happiness too great to last.
"Tonight I sit amid the ashes of hope; my joy, my dreams, the buoyant promise of my life ruthlessly shattered. After leaving you this evening I was accosted by two members of the order, emissaries to me from the kanpo, who have informed roe from him that I have erred in my translation of the cipher, and that my oaths being still binding upon me, their penalties will be relentlessly carried out.
"They tell me that the word in the acrostic which I translated as 'sea' should properly be rendered as 'sea of death,' and thus construed, the phrase, of course, simply means that only the grave can release me from my pledges.
"Oh, fool—fool that I was ever to undertake those oaths, ever to bind myself to that accursed band!
"This is my story, Marjorie. At first I thought I would return to you and tell it to you with my own lips. Ah, how I long to see you once more! But I am afraid.
"I know that you would laugh at the peril and insist on sharing this danger with me; and I fear that under your influence and with your arms about my neck my resolution may fail me and I consent.
"I love you too well, dear, to expose you to such a risk. Such a course would be the wildest madness; it would be nothing short of suicide. I know the power of this organization, and I know that from its mandates there is no escape.
"And yet I have one faint hope. The kanpo is a firm friend of mine, and it may be that he will yield to my entreaties and release me from my oath, as he alone has the power to do. At least, I am determined to make the attempt.
"I leave tonight, secretly and silently, so that none may learn my mission nor my destination. Above all others, I dare not intrust my secret to you, dear heart, for I feel that if you knew it nothing could restrain you from following me.
"Tomorrow you will hear that I have mysteriously disappeared. Afterwards, rumors of the most alarming character will reach you concerning me. You may even be asked to gaze upon my dead face. But let not your heart be troubled or your faith swayed even by the evidence of your own senses. Doubt everything, believe nothing, except that I am alive and well, and that I shall surely return.
"The course laid out for me is a difficult one; but rest assured no bodily danger threatens me. I shall at all times be safe and guarded. The distressing phenomena which will come to your notice arc mere illusions necessary to the success of my plans.
"I send you this by the hand of the one person I can trust, and give it to you in order that you may not grieve. I shall certainly return within a year, either to claim you as my bride or to tell you that I have failed.
"But I shall not fail—I will not. Let us not even contemplate such a contingency. Courage, sweetheart; and we will yet wring happiness from fate. Only trust in me, believe in me, never doubt that I shall return. I will not say good by, but au revoir. If I could but see you just once more before I leave!
"Oh, the gods are cruel!
The captain refolded the letter and placed it in its envelope.
"A message from the dead," he commented in solemn tones.
"From the dead?" broke in old Grantham sharply. "Wait a minute. Let us see again what he says down there towards the end. Here, give me the letter," and tearing it open he ran hastily through the pages. "Now, listen to this, O'Hara, and tell me what you think of it: 'Tomorrow you will hear that I have mysteriously disappeared. Afterwards, rumors of the most alarming character will reach you concerning me. You may even be asked to gaze upon my dead face; But let not your heart be troubled, or your faith swayed even by the evidence of your own senses. Doubt everything; believe nothing except that I am alive and well, and that I shall surely return.'"
"But, Mr. Grantham, you yourself saw Farthingale's dead body!"
"Nevertheless, he tells Marjorie not to believe even that evidence."
"Good Lord, man, you don't mean to intimate that you think Farthingale still alive?"
"You see what he says. Draw your own conclusions."
"But the positive identification of the body?"
"Pooh I Seven different corpses were identified as that of Morgan, the man supposed to have been killed by the Masons."
O'Hara sat silent, busily thinking, his heavy brow puckered up into a multiplicity of wrinkles. Then he sprang to his feet.
"By George, I believe you are right, Mr. Grantham!" he cried. "I begin to see the whole plot now. Farthingale was never abducted, never died, was never murdered. He left of his own free will, and gave this letter to Ditson to deliver to your daughter in order that she might understand his departure. Ditson opened and read it, and for his own purposes decided to use the information it contained.
"I doubt if at first he contemplated anything more than a concealment of the real facts, thinking that events would probably shape themselves to suit him. But discovering later that a mysterious departure did not meet his ends, he then determined to represent the missing man as murdered, and for this purpose substituted a corpse. The mutilation was of course to prevent identification, and all the rot about spirit photographs, etc., was to avert suspicion."
Old Hartley Grantham bowed his head. "I hate to think it of the boy, O'Hara," he said regretfully; "but I believe you are right."
"LET us sift this matter thoroughly, Mr. Grantham," said O'Hara finally, "and be definitely sure that we are right before we go ahead. Who was Dr. Farthingale's physician?"
"Raymond," returned Grantham, giving the name of one of the best known practitioners in the city.
O'Hara promptly called him up by telephone.
"Doctor," he asked, "can you tell me whether Dr. Farthingale suffered from any affection of the heart?"
"He certainly did not," came back the positive response. "I examined him for life insurance not more than six weeks ago, and I am willing to make affidavit that he was then as sound as a bell. I was simply dumbfounded when I read in the papers this evening that the autopsy had shown an aneurysm."
"So far so good," commented O'Hara as he rang off. "Now "—sending in a call for the offices of the Board of Health—"to find a man who died last Saturday from an aneurysm of the heart."
It did not take long to discover. John Buchanan in Fifty Eighth Street was the individual, and his description, to the detective's great satisfaction, tallied very closely with that of Farthingale.
The duration of the man's last illness, it was stated, had been about six weeks, and the burial permit had called for an interment at Little Falls, New York. As he left no family, the arrangements had all been conducted through a Chinaman who claimed to have been a friend of the deceased.
"A Chinaman?" muttered O'Hara. "I can't see just why a Chinaman should be worked into the game."
Leaving that matter for further consideration, however, he sent a telegram to Little Falls, and in half an hour received a response informing him that the body of John Buchanan had been duly received there on the previous Monday, and had been immediately buried.
"That would seem to settle the question of substitution in this case at least," observed Mr. Grantham when the detective showed him the answer.
"It does," replied O'Hara. "It makes me absolutely certain that it was done. Tomorrow," he added, "I'll have that coffin dug up; but I am willing to wager right now that we will find nothing in it.
"The scheme is a simple one when you understand it," he went on in explanatory fashion. "Ditson had found a double to Farthingale in the person of this invalid; but before he could use him, he had to wait for the man to die. That accounts for the various clues he discovered and exploited, all of which were for the purpose of throwing us off the track. Then, finally, when Buchanan obligingly passed in his checks, what was easier than to shift his corpse down to the curio shop, and send to Little Falls an empty box stuffed with bricks and paper?"
"But," objected the old man, "how did Farthingale know that Ditson had such a program prepared? Remember that he wrote to Marjorie telling her in almost so many words to be prepared for just what happened."
O'Hara's jaw dropped; he was evidently nonplussed.
"That's so, isn't it?" he said ruefully, scratching his head. "Say," he broke out after a minute or two of thought, "you don't suppose the two of them could have been in cahoots. No, that won't do; else why did Ditson hide the letter?"
At last he gave a shake of his big head.
"It floors me, Mr. Grantham," he announced. "I never have been able to make head or tail of this case, and I begin to believe that I never will.
"There is just, one more chance, Mr. Grantham," he finally averred. "The only person who can possibly throw any light on the tangle is Kumar, and I have never been able to get him to talk. Suppose I have him brought up here, and yon see if you can get anything out of him. It's not too late, is it?"
"By no means. Send for him right away."
Accordingly a message was sent to headquarters where Kumar had been detained as a witness, ordering that he be brought forthwith to Mr. Grantham's, and within a reasonable course of time the Hindoo was ushered in.
"Kumar," said Mr. Grantham, plunging at once into the heart of his subject, "we have just obtained information which leads us to believe that we have been deceived, and that Dr. Farthingale is no more dead than you are."
He paused and directed a searching glance at the impervious face of the Hindoo; but if he expected to find surprise or astonishment pictured there, he was disappointed.
"I knew it," he said coolly.
"Knew what?" demanded Grantham and O'Hara in one breath.
"That the dead man at the curio shop was not the Doctor Sahib; that it was— what you call it?—a fake."
"Why didn't you say so then, and prevent all this trouble?"
"At the first I did not know. I also was deceived. It was not until after the officers had laid their hands upon me that I learned the truth. Then I would not speak. What says the Hindoo proverb: 'A still tongue saves more necks than a noisy one.'"
"How did you learn that the corpse was not that of the doctor?"
"When the policeman turned the body over I instantly saw that there was no mole at the back of the neck, whereas my master possessed two such spots. Ask the rubber at the Turkish bath if my words are not the truth?"
"What is your opinion, then, Kumar? Where do you think your master is?"
The Hindoo spread out his hands with a gesture of interrogation.
"Who can say?" he answered. "It may be, and this I believe, that Ditson Sahib knew; but Ditson Sahib is dead. He will not tell us."
O'Hara produced Farthingale's letter. As soon as Kumar saw it, he seized it, his eyes sparkling, his whole face expressing the liveliest excitement.
"It is the master's hand!" he exclaimed as he examined the superscription.
"Listen to what it says then, and tell us what you think of it," returned O'Hara, and once more he read aloud the farewell epistle to Marjorie.
Kumar bent an attentive ear throughout the reading, becoming more and more agitated as it drew to a close.
"Where did you find that?" he demanded sharply when O'Hara had finished.
"Under the carpet in Ditson's room."
"Ah," cried Kumar with a sibilant indrawing of his breath. "You see then it is as I and the little lawyer suspected. Ditson Sahib was really at the bottom of all this devil's work. And the master? Why," he added triumphantly, "the master is of course safe at Tso-ri-niah!"
"Tso-ri-niah?" questioned Grantham and O'Hara together. "Where is that?"
Kumar hesitated a moment before he answered.
"Far away, in Central Thibet," he finally said, apparently with great unwillingness.
"And you think that is where Farthingale has gone?"
"Think? I know it. Ah, I must go to him. Tell me," he cried excitedly, turning to Mr. Grantham, "how soon can I catch a steamer for Shanghai?"
Grantham was struck by a sudden idea.
"Kumar," he said, "the physicians have advised me to take my daughter for a long sea voyage as soon as she recovers sufficiently to make the trip. What is the matter with our accompanying you when you go to seek the doctor. You will save time by waiting, for I shall order the yacht to proceed by the shortest route, while we shall have the benefit of your guidance and experience. In the mean time you can remain here in my house. Come, what do you say? Is it a bargain?"
Neither man observed the stealthy gleam which came to Kumar's eye.
"Sahib, I thank you," he said with a low salaam. "I accept your offer, and if there is no objection, I shall enter your service at once. Is there any task the sahib wishes me to perform?"
"No, I guess not. Stop. I remember that Jenkins told me he was suffering with a terrible toothache. Do you mind relieving him and watching beside Ditson's coffin tonight?"
"Certainly, sahib," said Kumar with ready acquiescence. "Anything you desire."
Accordingly it was so arranged, and later, when O'Hara had departed and the old man stepped for a moment into the death chamber before retiring, he found the turbaned Hindoo keeping his silent vigil beside the bier.
Grantham leaned over and gazed into the set waxen features.
"Oliver Ditson," he muttered between his clenched teeth, "they say all enmity should end this side of the grave; but unless my daughter recovers, I will never forgive you for the blow you have dealt me and mine!"
Then, overcome by his feelings, he quickly left the room and softly mounted the stair.
As he paused at the door of the sick chamber the nurse came forward.
"There is no change, Mr. Grantham," she replied in response to his questioning glance. "You know the doctors said we could expect none for three days yet."
"True," he sighed; "and yet I hoped she might have been a little better."
Then with dragging step and sorrow bowed head he passed on into his own apartment.
Gradually the house sank into silence. The sick girl tossed her head from side to side of the pillow and still murmured her pitiful, incessant, "Why? Why? Why?" but at length she, too, grew calmer and finally seemed to sleep.
The nurse sat watching her, ready to attend to the slightest call; but as the night wore on she also was evidently affected by the drowsy atmosphere, and several times caught herself nodding in her chair.
"This will never do," she said to herself, and, rising, bathed her eyes in cold water; but still the impulse to slumber stole resistlessly over her.
She let her head fall back and closed her eyes for just a moment, opened them again, and then once more allowed them to fall shut Her inhalations grew longer and deeper, her form relaxed; at last she, too, slept.
Suddenly Marjorie Grantham opened her eyes, and, sitting up in bed, threw off the covers with a quick, restless movement.
She sat thus for a moment, watching with sly, stealthy glances the slumbering figure of the nurse; then, softly creeping out of bed, she donned her dressing gown and slippers.
What impulse of her delirious brain led her none can say; but for some reason the idea was strong upon her that she must go down stairs.
So, quietly as a mouse, she stole from the room and down the steps. Through the din in groom, library, and conservatory she passed; but seemed not to find what she desired. Then, guided by the faint light shining through the doorway, she moved towards the drawing-room which held the dead man and his silent watcher.
Some instinct of danger most have possessed her, for she did not enter freely here as she had into the other apartments; but, screening herself behind the heavy portières which hung at the door, peeped warily within.
As her eyes took in the scene presented, a stifled gasp escaped her lips, and tremors shook her frame from head to foot.
There was the Hindoo of whom her last conscious thought had been that he was her lover's murderer, and there the coffin surrounded by the trappings of mourning.
The shock of the sight restored her to reason and to memory. She had no doubt that the occupant of the casket was Farthingale; but what, she wondered in passionate protest, was Kumar doing there, when he should rightfully be confined within a prison cell?
She was about to cry out and denounce him, demand his removal from the house, when the words he was muttering to himself came to her ears, and with a mighty effort she strangled the cry in her throat.
At the little choking sound, the valet interrupted his soliloquy and quickly glanced up; then, evidently deciding that his hearing had deceived him, he resumed his former occupation.
He held in his hand a little red note book which he had taken from the folds of his turban, and which bore a striking resemblance to the one Ditson had displayed just as he was stricken.
This Kumar was carefully examining, making running comments upon its contents as he turned over the pages.
At length he arose and shook the book with malicious triumph before the face of the dead man.
"Yes, Ditson Sahib, you were wise," he mocked; "but you reckoned not of the subtlety of Kumar Sabhu. Rightly says the Hindoo proverb: 'The cobra is the wisest of snakes; but he is unable to cope with the mongoose.'"
Marjorie laid her hand upon her heart to still its beating. She was evidently upon the verge of learning the details of a great crime.
"Ditson?" she said to herself wonderingly as she heard Kumar's invective. "Is Oliver Ditson dead?" she thought. "But why have they brought him here? Why is Kumar watching him? Where have they taken Edward?"
She interrupted this train of speculation to listen eagerly once more, for Kumar was again addressing the silent figure.
"You were proud, Ditson Sahib; but as you lie there, so shall all lie who cross my path!"
An expression of malignant ferocity swept over his swarthy features.
"And you were wise, Ditson Sahib; but where is your wisdom now?
"Yes, you were wise," he repeated, ruminatively turning over the pages of the little book. "You had traced it all out, the whole story. You had even won over Ah Fong and Wan to betray me "—again a gleam of pitiless savagery came into his eyes; "but let them not think that they shall profit by their treachery. Truly, like you, Ditson Sahib, they also shall have their reward!
"It is well that I secured this telltale book," he went on, "and it is well that I have so soon escaped from the police with it in my possession and have had this chance to learn its secrets. And now what to do with it.
"If I keep it, O'Hara, the fat pig, may learn something to my disadvantage and arrest me with it on my person. I must destroy it at once. But how?"
He bent his brow in anxious thought.
"Ah, I have it," he finally said with malicious satisfaction. "I will hide it in the coffin. No one will ever think of looking for it there, and it will be as irrecoverably lost as though it had never existed."
Suiting the action to the words, he slipped the little book down between the linings of the casket.
"There, Ditson Sahib," he muttered tauntingly, "take your secrets with you, and tell them to the devils in hell, for you will never tell them to any other."
As he finished, the first gleams of dawn were breaking through the windows, and realizing that the household would soon be astir, Kumar ceased his imprecations and resumed once more his attitude of an impassive watcher beside the bier.
Marjorie, almost overcome at what she had seen and heard, stole tremblingly away and tottered up the stairs to her own room.
Her head was whirling round and round, and she felt faint and giddy; but one paramount thought was firmly fixed in her brain.
"I must tell Captain O'Hara," she kept repeating over and over to herself. "He must know of this at once."
As she entered her chamber, however, the overtaxed feelings which she had held so long in restraint gave way and she fell in a death-like swoon across the foot of her bed.
Here the nurse on awakening a few moments later found her, and at once took methods to restore her, and to again place her in bed; but being by no means desirous of confessing her own shortcomings, she made no report of the incident.
The doctors, therefore, when they called in the morning, could find no explanation for the marked increase of delirium in their patient, or of the reason for the new and alarming symptoms which had manifested themselves.
"If it were in any way possible," said one physician, "I would declare that she is suffering from the effects of some terrible nervous shock."
Gradually, however, Marjorie's magnificent constitution asserted itself, the effects of her midnight experience wore away, and the assiduous care and nursing which she received proved victorious over the ravings of disease.
She recuperated very rapidly, and in the course of a few weeks she had almost recovered her normal condition of physical health.
Her mental state, however, was a piteous one to all who recalled the clever, keen-witted Marjorie Grantham of two months before.
She was not violently insane, nor even what you might call demented; but her mind seemed dazed and clouded, like a costly jewel veiled behind wrappings which only occasionally permitted a gleam of its brilliance to shine through.
She seemed, moreover, possessed of a constant desire to unburden herself of some secret, to impart something which she knew to a particular person; but what it was she had to tell, or to whom she desired to tell it, she was utterly unable to explain.
For hours she would sit brooding, vainly trying to recall the message she had to give; but at last she would be obliged to shake her head with a hopeless sigh.
"It is gone," she would say. "Sometimes I almost grasp it; but in the end it always evades me."
Kumar remained in Mr. Grantham's household all the time, and the quick deftness of his ways made him a valuable addition to the ménage.
There is of course no connection between this fact and an incident which caused something of a stir in police circles at the time; but it may be stated that during those weeks of Marjorie's convalescence two obscure Chinamen by the names of Ah Fong and Wan suddenly and mysteriously expired.
There was no evidence of foul play, however, and so after a little desultory investigation on the part of Captain O'Hara's men, the matter was dropped.
AS soon as his yacht could be overhauled and placed in commission, and Marjorie's health permitted of her taking the trip, Mr. Grantham began active preparations to sail for the Orient.
He had told the story of Farthingale's farewell letter, and of his present supposed whereabouts, to the eminent specialist who had Marjorie's case in charge, and that authority at once asserted that the quickest way to bring about a cure of the girl's malady was to restore her to her lover's arms.
"You see," he explained, "what is really the matter with her is that she is wearing herself away grieving for him. You have told her that he is alive and well; but so strong is the impression upon her brain that what she saw was really his corpse that she cannot grasp or believe the truth. The only way to remove this impression is to let her actually behold him in the flesh.
"Moreover, the eight of him will afford a stimulus, a mental fillip as it were, which I am confident will immediately and permanently do away with this dazed and beclouded condition of her brain.
"Nor would I delay in carrying your project into execution, Mr. Grantham," he added, "for I will not conceal from you that unless this mental stimulus I speak of be speedily forthcoming, there is grave danger that Marjorie may drift into a state of hopeless imbecility. In fact, I want you plainly to understand that the perils of the trip, difficult and dangerous as it may be, are not to be compared with the risk you run by allowing your daughter to brood upon her sorrow."
The old man was also reassured as to the possibility of a woman making the journey when he consulted with Kumar.
"Have no fear, sahib," the Hindoo said. "I know every foot of the way as well as if it were the path leading to my own doorstep, and I will pilot missee as well as yourself in perfect safety. All that is needed is that missee should be appareled as a man in Thibetan costume. I will not conceal from you that you will have to undergo certain hardships; but no doubt missee will readily accept those for the chance of being reunited to the master."
"But how can we arrange when we arrive at this island monastery?" persisted the old man. "Will not this precious gang of lamas, or whatever you call them, fall on us and kill us as soon as they learn the purpose of our mission? From all I have road, that appears to be the hospitable custom of the country."
"I did not intend that yon should go quite so far as Tso-ri-niah, sahib," replied the valet; and whether of design or not, he slightly emphasized the words "so far," while a faint gleam of cynical humor shone in his inscrutable eyes. "No, I had purposed that you and missee should camp two days away, permitting me to go on alone and fetch the Doctor Sahib back with me. I can readily accomplish that without arousing any suspicion on the part of the kanpo."
"How much of an escort will we require for our protection on the journey?" asked Mr. Grantham.
"How many people are absolutely required for your comfort and convenience?" queried Kumar.
"Well—let me see. We must have a physician, two cooks, a maid for my daughter, a man to look after me, and as many guards as you think necessary."
"The cooks, the attendant for yourself, and the guards may all be omitted," said Kumar quietly. "I myself will perform all the personal services required by the sahib, and will also cook, look after the horses, and officiate in a general menial capacity. The reason for this, sahib, is that a numerous retinue would serve to hinder rather than to help us.
"Seeing us traveling in state, the fierce Tangut robbers would at once conclude that we were wealthy merchants, and would immediately attack us in such numbers as to overwhelm us; whereas, if we travel poorly and in a small company, they will not consider it worth their while to interfere with us."
This reasoning seemed so good that Grantham readily assented. In fact, the more he discussed the proposed excursion into the wilderness, the more he became inclined to accept Kumar's judgment in all respects, and to leave the entire planning of the journey in his hands.
At last everything was in readiness, and on a pleasant day in early August the party assembled on board Mr. Grantham's swift ocean going steam yacht, ready to sail.
Captain O'Hara came down to the dock to see them off. It was the first time Marjorie had seen the chief of detectives since her illness, and the sight of him seemed at once to arouse her to a condition of unwonted excitement.
She paced restlessly up and down the deck, and, pressing her hand agitatedly to her brow from time to time, appeared striving eagerly to recollect something which as continually escaped her.
Just as the order to cast off was about to be given, one of the yacht's Chinese waiters stepped up through a hatchway, and as she saw him a sudden wave of comprehension swept over Marjorie's face.
Rushing up to O'Hara, she drew him quickly to one side.
"Tell me, have any Chinamen been killed lately?" she asked abruptly.
"There's one or two killed almost every day, miss," he answered.
"But I mean murdered," she cried impatiently.
O'Hara was familiar enough, with the vagaries of the insane not to be surprised at the irrelevance of her questions.
"Yes, miss," he replied, recalling the case he had so recently investigated and willing to humor her in her fancy; "there were two that died the other day under rather peculiar circumstances; but I don't believe they were murdered."
"You are wrong," she insisted excitedly. "He said he would do it because they had betrayed him, and he has. It was he, too, who killed Edward, and Oliver Ditson. Oh, look in Oliver's coffin. Captain O'Hara, and you will find that I am telling the truth. He hid the proof there."
"He? Who is he?" questioned O'Hara, impressed, despite his belief in her insanity, by the undoubted sincerity of her tone.
Marjorie glanced quickly around and saw Kumar's searching gaze bent full upon her. Immediately she broke into a fit of trembling.
"Oh, I dare not tell," she cried nervously. "I dare not. But you will look in the coffin, Captain O'Hara. Tell me that you will," she implored, her hands clasped together, her lips quivering.
"Yes, yes," he answered soothingly; but Marjorie, overcome by the effort she had made, paid no attention to his reply.
She had relapsed into her former dazed condition, and was murmuring on in rambling fashion that she must tell something.
"What is it?" she asked, painfully trying to remember. "Whom shall I tell?"
A moment later they started to draw in the gangplank, and Captain O'Hara, waving a bon voyage to Mr. Grantham and the physician who accompanied the party, stepped hastily ashore.
"Queer conglomeration of ideas crazy people get into their heads," he commented to himself as he walked up the pier. "Now, that poor girl has heard somewhere of the mysterious death of those 'Chinks,' and immediately she gets them mixed up with Farthingale and Ditson and a lot of people they never heard of."
And forthwith the doughty chief put the matter from his mind.
Before two months had passed over his head, however. Captain O'Hara was destined to recall Marjorie Grantham's seemingly inconsequent suggestion, and bitterly regret the small heed he had paid to it.
He was seated in his office one day, some six weeks after the Granthams had sailed, when a tall, bearded man entered, accompanied by two individuals whose American attire completely failed to disguise their oriental nativity.
"I hear you have been looking for me, captain," said the stranger with a twinkle in his eye, "and I have come to report."
"Yes?" answered the captain interrogatively.
"Perhaps you will understand better," observed the stranger, his smile growing broader, "when I tell you my name. I am Edward Farthingale."
"What!" ejaculated the detective, springing to his feet and coming out from behind his desk. "For Heaven's sake, man, where have you been, and what have you been doing?"
"It is a rather long story," returned Farthingale, "so, if you don't mind, I am going to ask you first to tell me where Mr. Grantham and his daughter can be found. I called at the house immediately on my arrival in town; but all they could tell me there was that they had gone off on a yachting cruise, and that you were probably the only person who could inform me as to their whereabouts."
"They have gone to Tso-ri-niah," responded the detective blandly; "in search of you."
It was now Farthingale's turn to exhibit amazement.
"To Tso-ri-niah?" he gasped. "Surely not without a competent guide and a sufficient escort?"
"I know nothing about the escort," returned O'Hara. "Kumar accompanied them as guide."
"Kumar?" repeated Farthingale, his consternation abating somewhat at this intelligence. "The matter is not so desperate then as I had feared. Still, he ought to have known enough to have dissuaded them from so mad a venture. I cannot understand it."
"The doctors thought," put in O'Hara in an explanatory tone, that the chance of meeting you was the only way to save the young lady's mind, and that—"
"The young lady's mind?" interrupted Farthingale fiercely. "Not Marjorie? You don't mean to tell me that Marjorie has been ill?"
"Why, certainly. She has been affected mentally ever since Ditson played his rascally trick on her."
"Ditson?—Rascally trick?—Marjorie insane?" cried Farthingale. "Am I, too, going mad? My God, man, tell me what it all means?"
"Do you mean to say," broke out O'Hara incredulously, "that you haven't learned any of the strange goings on that took place here after your disappearance?"
"Not a thing," asserted Farthingale. "On the other hand, I was led to believe that everything here was progressing in the most satisfactory fashion. Oh, tell me all that happened," he cried, rising and pacing excitedly up and down the floor.
"Now, look here. Dr. Farthingale," finally advised the detective, "we will never accomplish anything in this manner. The best plan to get at the bottom of this affair is for you first to sit down and tell me your whole story; then I will tell you mine, and between the two, I imagine we will come pretty near arriving at the truth."
Farthingale, growing calmer, saw the wisdom of the suggestion and assented.
"But first," he cried, a sudden thought striking him, "I want to ask you when Mr. Grantham and his daughter started on this journey?"
"They sailed," replied O'Hara, consulting his note book, "on the third of August."
Farthingale made a swift mental calculation.
"A cablegram forwarded by wire and courier might possibly reach them at Fancheng," he decided, and he hastily penciled out a message to recall the travelers. "Will you have this sent for me at once, captain?"
"Certainly. And now," O'Hara added when the matter had been attended to, "I am all anxiety, doctor, to hear your story."
"As a preface to my narration, then," began Farthingale, "I am going to tell you something which you may decline to believe; but which from ample demonstration I am convinced is a tact.
"This is that the occultists of the Orient are skilled to a high degree in the practice of thought transference, or telepathy, and are actually able to transmit messages from one to another without recourse to visible or material means.
"It has been repeatedly observed in Anglo Indian affairs, notably at the time of the great mutiny, that information will be given out simultaneously all over the land from Calcutta to the Himalayas, advices traveling from point to point with a speed which eclipses all known methods of intercommunication.
"I myself, as a member of an esoteric society in Thibet, had exceptional opportunities to inquire into the existence of such phenomena, and, although —probably owing to my matter of fact Caucasian brain—I was never able personally to exercise the power, I know how it can be done, and nave repeatedly seen it accomplished by others.
"The greatest adept in the world at it, as I verily believe, is Mana Fuyeh, the kanpo or head of the Thibetan order to which I belonged; but all its members are not so competent. For instance, although Kumar, my valet, readily picked up the knack, Karana and Oshinima here "—indicating with a wave of his hand the two foreigners, who had remained quietly seated in the background during the course of the interview—"are receivers only, never having been able to acquire the trick of sending a message.
"This society to which I refer, and of which I was a member—note that I say was, please—is pledged to eternal celibacy, and the penalty for disobedience of this paramount rule is death."
O'Hara nodded. The ground was familiar to him; but it was one of his precepts always to let a man tell his story in his own way.
"After coming to America," went on the doctor, "the ties I had formed in Thibet became extremely irksome to me, and consequently I was overjoyed when I discovered what I thought to be a method of absolving myself from my pledges. Then, considering myself a free agent, I became engaged to be married to Miss Grantham.
"On the eve of our wedding day, however, as I was leaving her house, I was accosted by these two men, and informed that I had been misted in thinking myself released, and that they had instructions from the kanpo to take me back forthwith to Thibet."
"These two men, you say?" broke in O'Hara, perplexedly scanning the square, heavy faces of the two Thibetans. "Why, I thought—but"—interrupting himself— "no matter now, I will return to the point later. Go on with your story, please, doctor."
"They told me," resumed Farthingale, "that while on a mission to Peking, they had received a telepathic message from the kanpo directing them to come to this country at once and lay these commands before me. Should I prove obdurate, they were to depict the dreadful consequences of refusal, and if I still declined to obey, they were to take possession of me by force and carry me off. My marriage, said the kanpo, must be prevented at all hazards.
"Well, as you may imagine, the blow came upon me like a thunder clap from a clear sky. It stunned and overwhelmed me. I went home and consulted with Kumar, who, it turned out, had already seen the Thibetans and learned their mission, and in fact had been the person who directed them where they could find me.
"He had been thinking over the situation all evening, and with his usual fertility of resource, had already mapped out a plan which he at once proposed to me.
"It seems there was an incurable invalid residing on our block, a poor man named John Buchanan, who bore such a remarkable personal resemblance to me that he might have been my twin brother. Owing to this fact, Kumar had struck up an acquaintance with him, and he now suggested that we should induce the man to masquerade as myself, and allow his death, when it occurred, to be reported as mine.
"Inasmuch as he was entirely without kith or kin, and the sum which I would pay him for the deception would render his last days a dream of luxury to him, Kumar had no doubt that he would consent.
"The report of my death carried back by Oshinima and Karana would of course effectually dispose of any further proceedings against me on the part of the society, and in due course of time, though under another name, I could again resume my place in the world.
"It was of course out of the question to ask Buchanan to enact the role of a living Farthingale, no matter how well he might play the part of a dead one, so Kumar advised that pending his death I should drop out of sight, and in order to prevent any possible exposure of our ruse, he urged that my departure should be made secretly and at once.
"I protested, considering such a course theatrical and unnecessary; but in the turmoil of my brain I was unable to think or reason calmly, and as Kumar's plan seemed to offer the one possible avenue of escape from the hideous complications which beset me, I finally yielded, only insisting that Miss Grantham and her father should be apprised of the nature and cause of my leaving.
"Kumar was inclined to discourage even this; but, finding me firm, he at last acceded and promised to deliver a letter, which I at once sat down and wrote."
"Kumar did?" exclaimed O'Hara. "How was it then that Ditson got hold of the letter?"
"Ditson?" returned Farthingale, equally puzzled. "Ditson had nothing to do with it."
"Yet you certainly had an interview with Ditson that evening?"
"Not at all. Who said that I had?"
"DR. FARTHINGALE," said O'Hara, "this story of yours is bringing out a number of things which require clearing up. But, as I said before, I think the best way to get at the truth is for you to finish, and then I will be ready to answer any questions you may ask."
"All right, then," assented the other. "Let me see, where was J?— Oh, yes, I had just told you about writing the letter to Miss Grantham. Well, in the mean time Kumar had sent in a telepathic message to the two lamas, who it seemed he had lodged in a cheap hotel right around the corner from us, instructing them to come to my room at once.
"These Thibetans are all expert lasso throwers and hardy athletes, so with Kumar's assistance they had planned out how this could be done by stretching ropes across the intervening chasm and making their way over the roofs. Kumar thought it of the greatest importance to baffle inquiry that my door should be found locked on the inside in the morning, so it was on this account that a departure from the window was adopted."
"Just one question, doctor," interrupted O'Hara, going to his safe and producing the Hindoo charm which Ditson had found upon the roof. "Do you recognize this?
"Certainly. It is a little amulet which I picked up in Bombay several years ago, and which I always wore upon ray person. I lost it the night of my departure.
"To continue, however, I was smuggled out of the hotel in the luggage of the Thibetans, and all three of us proceeded to the house of a Chinaman, whither Kumar had directed us. Here I shaved off my beard, and disguised as Chinamen the Thibetans and myself went to Montreal, and thence into northern Canada.
"Some three weeks later I learned from a hunter who had come up from New York that I was supposed to have been murdered; so, supposing that the plot had worked out successfully, I at once despatched Oshinima and Karana back to Thibet and returned to the city. I saw no one that I knew, and being very tired, went at once to my rooms.
"Kumar seemed exceedingly perturbed at my appearance, which he declared most inopportune, and besought me to go immediately back to the wilds. I told him that I was tired of dodging about like an escaped criminal, and that as soon as I had conferred with Miss Grantham, I proposed to go to Tso-ri-niah and lay my case before the kanpo.
"'Mana Fuyeh has always been very grateful to me for saving his life,' I said, 'and I believe I can persuade him to release me. At any rate, I am going to try it.'
"Kumar did his best to dissuade me from my purpose; but at length, finding me obdurate, advised me to leave at once, assuring me that it would be no use to look up the Granthams, as they had left town immediately after my disappearance.
"He told me that they understood the case entirely, and that he would notify them of the change in my plans, endeavoring in this way to learn just what my exact movements would be.
"I did not gratify his curiosity to any great extent, however, as I was tired of the officious intermeddling he had displayed on various occasions, and which I crossly told him was responsible for the present bungle.
"Still, there was no one else I could trust, so I instructed him to advise Miss Grantham that I had gone to Thibet and would return some time inside of the year.
"Then I took leave of him, in somewhat of a bad temper I will admit, and that very day, still disguised, set sail for the Orient. I had no other idea than that there was before me the dreary prospect of a long journey into the interior of Asia, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when in Shanghai I met Karana and Oshinima, who were hurrying back to America to tell me that a grievous and inexplicable mistake had occurred.
"Mana Fuyeh, it seems, had never sent out any instructions concerning me, nor had he had the slightest interest in my approaching marriage. On the other hand, my original reading of the cipher in the code of laws had been the correct one, and by crossing the sea I had been absolved from all my pledges to the fraternity. He was surprised at my not knowing this, as he said Kumar was fully informed in regard to it.
"As you may imagine, I lost no time in preparing to return, and hero I am back in New York, as much at sea as you are in regard to the meaning of all that has taken place in my absence."
"Dr. Farthingale," said O'Hara, after a thoughtful pause, "you say these two men, Oshinima and Karana, left New York on the night of your departure and have never been back until today?"
Farthingale bowed assent.
"Then will you kindly tell me who the two Thibetans were who conducted the curio shop where your supposed corpse was found?"
Farthingale was of course profoundly ignorant as to their identity, but after questioning the captain closely on his description of the men, and after consultation with his companions, he expressed the opinion that they were probably Chinese from the Kan Su district.
"Living on the border, and hence being familiar with the customs and manners of the Thibetans," said Farthingale, "they could readily pass themselves off as representatives of that race."
"Chinese!" exclaimed O'Hara, as the recollection of Marjorie Grantham's farewell words came back to him. "Good Lord, doctor, we must open Ditson's coffin right away."
There the proof of Kumar's villainy was found. Ditson's notes told the entire story.
The scrap of paper he had picked up in the police station was a laundry slip with some memoranda in Chinese characters upon the back. Ditson had taken it to an old Chinaman, a friend of his, who had frequently assisted him in unraveling knotty problems, and had requested him to find its owner.
From the circumstance of the fresh roses in Farthingale's rooms he had previously reasoned out that the doctor had paid a visit to his apartments on that date, and hence had concluded that he had not been abducted, but was free to come and go as he chose.
This being the case, it was unlikely that Farthingale should have gone without some word of farewell to Marjorie, and this naturally would be intrusted to Kumar.
Then came the supposed murder and the inquest. While Kumar was incarcerated in jail, Ditson searched his belongings, but failed to find the letter he was positive existed, for the excellent reason that Kumar had hidden it in Ditson's own room, thinking that the safest place for concealment, and that if ever found it would cast suspicion on Ditson rather than himself.
Ditson, at the end of the first day's inquest, was in despair. He was certain that the crafty Hindoo was at the bottom of the whole plot; but in trying to prove it he had so far only drawn suspicion on his own head.
Then, just as he was about to give up, came the word from his Chinese friend that the owner of the laundry slip had been discovered. He secured a continuance of the trial, and a few hours later he had the whole story in his hands.
Ah Fong and Wan told him how Kumar, after it was discovered that Thibetans had been instrumental in Farthingale's disappearance, had hired them to enact the role; how they had mutilated the body of Buchanan after it was brought to the curio shop; and how they escaped from the place by a tunnel in the cellar into the next house, Kumar cleverly assisting them by directing the officers towards the roof.
Ditson had disclosed his discoveries to no one, as he desired to make a sensation with them in court on the following day, and so emerge from the clouds which had gathered around him with the triumph of having solved the mystery alone and single handed.
"Why in the world did he go and commit suicide then?" questioned O'Hara perplexedly.
Farthingale, who had been looking further into the casket, pulled out the little blow pipe and a box of tiny darts.
"He never did, captain," he said solemnly. "Look out!" he added sharply, as O'Hara began curiously examining the darts. "Don't prick yourself with one of those. I have seen them before, and if you have them chemically examined, I think you will find they are tipped with a deadly poison.
"The whole thing is quite plain to me now," summed up Farthingale, "Kumar, for some reason of his own, did not want me married, and used his telepathic powers to summon emissaries here with information which he knew would at least postpone my nuptials and give him time for further plotting. Having got me safely out of the way, he then planned to deceive Miss Grantham into believing me dead; but finding Ditson was coming uncomfortably close to the truth, he used hired murderers as well as a hired corpse.
"Again Ditson learned his secret, however, and there could be but one result. Ditson had to be sacrificed."
"There is only one thing that gets me, though, doctor," said O'Hara ponderingly, "and that is, how did he work the photograph gag? None of the explanations so far given exactly satisfy me. And besides, what was his purpose in doing it?"
"There is only one way to find out," returned Farthingale, "and that is, to look at the camera."
Accordingly they proceeded to the Omar Khayyam, and Farthingale made a thorough examination of all his photographic apparatus; but although they inspected everything with the minutest care, the baffling phenomenon of the spirit pictures still remained a mystery.
While they were still busy with the examination a messenger boy entered the room and handed Farthingale a despatch.
It was from the American consul at Shanghai, and stated that Mr. Grantham and party had crossed the Thibetan frontier, and were now too far upon their journey into the interior to be overtaken.
"Good God!" gasped Farthingale with paling cheeks and horror stricken eyes. "Marjorie! In Thibet, and unprotected save by that murderous devil!"
ABOUT three o'clock one afternoon in late September Mr. Grantham's little cavalcade breasted the lofty mountain pass of the Ha la, and from that towering altitude caught a glimpse of blue waves glittering in the sunshine of the valley on the farther side.
Kumar waved his hand towards the distant sheen.
"Koko-nor!" he cried, and into his eyes there came again that gleam of crafty triumph which had shone there more and more frequently as the journey progressed ana the travelers became farther and farther removed from the confines of civilization.
Then, resuming his customary attitude of obsequious deference, he focused the glasses for Mr. Grantham and the doctor who had accompanied the expedition, and pointed out for them the spots of interest in the landscape. He concluded by showing to them the three islands which dotted the surface of the lake, and the lamasery buildings, just to be descried on far away Tso-ri-niah.
They camped in the Ra-la pass that night, and after supper the Hindoo took occasion to confer with Grantham.
"I must leave you here, sahib," he said. "I regret the necessity; but it would not be safe for you to approach nearer the domain of the kanpo. I must go on to Tso-ri-niah alone; but I will make all speed to return hither, and shall assuredly bring with me my beloved master to rejoice the heart of missee.
"Have no fear while I am gone, sahib, for the inhabitants of these parts are peaceable and well disposed, and you can be in no possible danger."
Treacherous knave, he well knew that the Tanguts of the Koko-nor are the cruelest and most savage of all the Thibetan tribes. Every man among them is by nature and tradition a robber, and few there are whose souls are not stained and doubly stained with the crime of murder.
Still, Grantham knew nothing of this, and Kumar had shown himself so reliable in every emergency which had arisen throughout their journey that the old man, although he had not been favorably impressed by the fierce visages of the few Tanguts he had seen upon the road, did not entertain the slightest doubt of the Hindoo's sincerity, but permitted him to depart with a feeling of perfect security.
Their pilgrimage had continued in rather leisurely fashion since they had crossed the Chinese frontier, for at Kumbum Marjorie's maid had been taken with a fever, and this, to Kumar's evident disgust, had considerably delayed them. Otherwise, however, the trip had been a by no means unpleasant experience.
Marjorie, especially, had seemed to greatly benefit by it in the condition of her general health, and latterly was beginning to lose much of the melancholy which had throughout been such a distressing characteristic of her illness.
For some time past she had been taking an increasing interest in the novel sights and scenes which were daily presented to her vision, and in many respects appeared more like the Marjorie Grantham she had been before the blight of the Farthingale mystery had fallen upon her life.
She never, however, seemed to overcome a lingering dread of Kumar, and was always uneasy and nervous when he was near. It was as though a shadow emanated from his presence. Then it was that she endeavored most anxiously to recover the recollection which was ever just slipping from her memory.
The day after the Hindoo's departure passed quietly and uneventfully enough for the whole party. All were somewhat fatigued by the exigencies of the journey, and for the most part preferred to put in the time resting.
There were but five of them, Marjorie and her maid, Mr. Grantham and the doctor, and a young lad they had picked up at Kumbum and had taken along to look after the horses.
The place where they were encamped was a narrow cut or valley through the range which forms the eastern barrier of the Koko-nor valley. On either side the mountains rose in steep, precipitous ascent, rugged, fantastic, and multiform in outline, their rocky summits far above gleaming purple and gray, like masses of mother of pearl.
Towards nightfall the doctor chanced to observe up on the mountainside, about half a mile away, two men on horses. They sat their steeds as silently as though they had been statues cut out of the rock, yet their glance was constantly directed at the little camp, as if they were studying out how best it could be approached.
Mr. Grantham brought out the telescope, and by this it could be seen that the men were heavily armed, and, moreover, carried no saddle bags, the unmistakable badge of a peaceable traveler.
Somewhat disquieted by their forbidding appearance, although in view of Kumar's words inclined to regard his apprehensions as far fetched, Mr. Grantham sent the boy to reconnoiter.
The lad was observed by the two horsemen and called up to them. After a rather lengthy conference he was allowed to return; but when he arrived at camp he was extremely reticent as to what had taken place, contenting himself by announcing that the men were sheep herders out in search of a lost lamb.
All that evening, however, he remained ill at ease and kept himself apart from the rest of the company, although usually he was very sociable, and liked to linger about the camp fire amusing his employers with his singing and dancing.
Marjorie had made quite a pet of the little fellow, and now, imagining that he must be sick, endeavored in every way to make him comfortable; but was finally obliged to desist, as her efforts seemed only to increase his distress.
It was about eleven o'clock. The camp was wrapped in sleep, Mr. Grantham with his entire belief in their security having placed no guards, when Marjorie was awakened by a light scratching at the flap of her tent.
Throwing a long cloak about her, she went out to investigate, and there found the boy, weeping and trembling as though he were in a fit of ague. As she was about to speak, he quickly laid his finger on his lip to enjoin silence.
"Missee," he whispered, shaking and shivering, "they will kill me for telling; but you have been good to me, and I will not let you be slain without a word of warning. It is Kumar's plan to kill you all, and he has assembled up in the mountains a band of twenty robbers who will attack you all unprepared at midnight tonight.
"Those men today were spies sent out to learn if you still believed Kumar's lying promises. I had to report to them, and they told me if all were not found asleep tonight I should surely die. But, missee, I could not keep silent any longer. My heart forced me to speak."
Marjorie Grantham was one of those women who seem born to meet an emergency, and she did not falter or break in the face of the present danger. Indeed, the terrifying intelligence brought her by the boy was just the mental fillip required to clear her brain.
There was no indecision in her manner, no incoherence in her speech. The apathy which had lain upon her was removed.
Grasping the boy by the hand, she stole quickly and quietly to the men's tent, and, having awakened her father, repeated to him the tale she had heard.
Wrapped in their fancied safety, he was first inclined to disbelieve the story; but with an imperious wave of her hand the girl stopped him.
"I know it is true," she burst out fiercely. "My memory has returned, and with it comes the recollections of that awful night when I listened to Kumar rehearsing his crimes over the body of Ditson. Oh, you have been blind, father, blind. He slew Edward, he killed Oliver, and now he has brought us out to this desert for the sole purpose of murdering us."
In the face of her vehemence, her sincerity, and, above all, the evident restoration of her mental powers, Grantham and the doctor, who by this time had joined the group, could no longer doubt.
"What can we do?" gasped the old man, his face grown gray with apprehension.
The little Thibetan lad's quick intelligence came to their rescue.
"Up the mountainside, sahib," he cried. "It is our one hope of escape. There is a hollow which I spied today where we can lie concealed for a time, and where, even if they do find us, we may be able to stand them off."
Haste was the first requisite to be considered, so quickly adopting the suggestion, and stopping only long enough to allow the doctor and Grantham to seize their firearms, the little party started out, scrambling with infinite pains, out with all possible speed, up the almost precipitous ascent.
Marjorie's maid, suddenly aroused from her slumbers and informed of the peril to which they were exposed, was in an almost helpless condition of hysterical fright, and her brave mistress was compelled almost to carry her.
At last, however, they reached their haven, a little hollow near the summit, where an overhanging ledge protected them from above, while in front was a hillock forming a natural breastwork.
They crouched, panting and spent, in their refuge; but they had not long to wait At one moment the soft murmur of the night wind came to their ears as it swept down the slope. Beyond this not a sound disturbed the absolute peace and stillness.
In the next there was a crash of discordant, ear piercing yells, the thunder of many hoofs, and, as if sprung from the earth, twenty horsemen dashed through the Ra-la pass and down upon the little encampment.
Torches flamed out in the darkness, and by their light dark figures could be seen running hither and thither, searching the deserted tents and looting the stores which the fugitives had left behind.
Then came a chorus of shouts, plainly expressing baffled rage and disappointment, and the bandits gathered together in a ring. Just then one of the tents caught fire from the torch of a too eager spoilsman, and by its glare the watchers from the mountain could see that the central figure among their enemies was that of Kumar.
"The treacherous dog!" muttered Mr. Grantham between clenched teeth, "If I had only put a bullet in him when he was leading me on with his silky palaver!"
The robbers held a short conference, and then, under the direction of Kumar, began to circle about like hunting dogs trying to recover a scent.
Bending over, with torches held closely to the ground, they examined every foot of the camp to find some trace of the direction in which their prey had fled.
Ah! A hoarse cry of exultation from one of them. The trail was found, and now the entire pack in full cry came leaping up the mountainside.
"We must stop this right here," said the doctor to Grantham, and, raising his revolver, he sent six shots in quick succession down at the oncoming horde.
At the unexpected reception the rush was checked. Simultaneously with the crack of the pistol there had been two or three sharp yelps of pain, and now, as the assailants scattered out and came on more slowly, the doctor was gratified to see that one of them lay still upon the ground, and two more were staggering down the hillside.
Old man Grantham, excited by the doctor's success, sprang up on the rampart to shake his fist and shout defiance at their foes. His companions were able to drag him back only just in time, for no sooner had he shown himself than a perfect hailstorm of bullets from the brigands' long guns rained about them, spattering on the rocks above their heads.
"Don't try that again, Grantham," cried the doctor. "Those beggars are almighty quick on the trigger."
A few momenta of breathing space, and then the enemy rushed again; but this time Grantham and the boy joined in the fray as well as the doctor, and once more the Tanguts were driven back, two less in number than when they came on.
Seeing that their quarry was not to be overwhelmed by mere numbers, the bandits withdrew out of aim and contented themselves by keeping the others close to cover with a desultory fire from their long rifles. So the night wore on, the one side expending its ammunition against the rocks, while the other wasted its shots upon the empty air.
"This will never do," said the doctor finally. "We have used up more than half our cartridges and must quit firing unless we see a chance of hitting something."
The cessation of shots, however, evidently imbued the foe with the idea that the enemy's supply of ammunition was exhausted, for immediately they rushed the Americans again, only to find to their sorrow that they had been mistaken.
At last the dawn broke, and the sun came up in all his glory. As the travelers gazed down towards the opposing forces, they saw Kumar advancing towards them with a white flag.
"Stay where you are," shouted Grantham when he had approached to within about a hundred feet. "I don't trust you enough to let you get any closer. Now, what do you want?"
"If you surrender now," answered Kumar, "I will guarantee to hold you for ransom. If you do not, you shall all be tortured to death."
"You will have to get us first," roared out Grantham, "before you can torture us; and as far as trusting you even to hold us for ransom, I know you too well, you bloody minded wretch, ever again to confide in any promise you may make.
"I suppose I ought to have put a bullet in him," he added to the doctor as Kumar strode back to his men; "but richly as he deserves it, somehow I couldn't bring myself to be the first American to fire on a white flag."
As the morning passed, the fugitives, in their exposed condition and unable to move about in their cramped quarters, began to suffer grievously, and to this was added the distress of a thirst intensified by the acrid fumes of the gunpowder blowing into their throats, for in their haste they had brought neither water nor food with them.
Still they fought on valorously and strove to cheer each other up with hopes of a rescue, although each knew secretly in his heart that only by a miracle could they be saved. At length the doctor, with a grim, hard face, drew Grantham aside.
"We have only eighteen cartridges left between us," he said. "I have taken all that the boy has, for I think it wiser to divide between ourselves. That means fourteen shots for the enemy and four for ourselves."
Grantham looked at him a moment and then nodded. "You are right," he said huskily. "We can't let the women fall into the hands of those devils."
Then in silence the two men wrung each other's hands in a firm clasp, and with heads held high returned to their posts.
The attacking party had evidently evolved a new plan, for now two details of them spread out to the right and left while the remainder slowly advanced as before from the center.
For a few moments the besieged had no chance to observe the maneuvers of the wings, as this latter force, with a series of rushes, kept them fully engaged in front.
Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! The doctor had emptied one revolver, and now, tossing the useless weapon to the ground, took up another, containing his last three shots.
"How many left?" he jerked over his shoulder at Grantham.
The old man examined his cylinder.
"Five," he answered.
The doctor's face grew tense and set.
"Don't let those pups have more than three, then," he said. "Dad burn it, I can only give them one."
Closer and closer came the bandits, drawing in slowly. They seemed to realize that this was the climax, the death grapple.
"Hold your fire," shouted the doctor as Grantham raised his gun to shoot. "Let 'em get so close that every shot'll have to count."
In their excitement, both men had forgotten the two wings of the enemy which had spread out to right and left. They had no fear, any way, of an attack from the rear, as the overhanging ledge above them had appeared to be absolutely inaccessible.
But now a sudden wild howl from behind caused them both to turn their heads as Kumar, leaping down from this ledge, sprang into their very midst. With knife upraised in his hand he sped across the little hollow towards Marjorie.
Quick he was, but quicker even than he, the Thibetan boy cast himself upon him, jerked his own knife from its sheath as he seized the agile Hindoo.
They grappled and fell together, rolling and writhing over each other so that Grantham and the doctor, who had both aimed their pistols at Kumar, were afraid to fire for fear of hitting the boy.
Almost at the some moment two arms were lifted, two blades flashed in the sunlight, and then flashed again wet and dripping red. The boy screamed horribly, ana his hold upon his antagonist relaxed.
Kumar dragged himself free, and once more lifted his arm; but before he could bring it down, or before the other men could interpose, the boy, with a last supreme effort, caught with his left hand the villain by the throat, and with his right buried his dagger in the Hindoo s breast.
Even as this bloody tragedy was taking place there was a chorus of fresh shots and shouts from the valley, and with a cavalcade of forty men Farthingale dashed upon the scene.
Before the onset of such a superior force the robbers broke and scattered in all directions, fleeing in abject terror across the hills.
The doctor stepped quickly to the little Thibetan hero who had so valiantly defended Marjorie; but one glance showed that he was beyond the reach of human aid. Kumar, however, still breathed, and the physician leaned over him to make an examination.
"Good heavens," he suddenly exclaimed, starting back in his astonishment, "this is a woman!"
Kumar opened her fast glazing eyes, and once again the old devotion flashed into them as she turned them upon Farthingale.
"Yes, sahib," she gasped, "I am a woman. Does that explain?"
And so the strange creature died.
* * * * *
MONTHS afterwards Dr. Farthingale and his wife, while developing a set of photographs which they had taken, were surprised to discover on every plate the visage of the scientist just as it had appeared in the "spirit pictures" which Ditson had taken that Sunday at the Omar Khayyam.
Farthingale scrutinized the plates a moment with deep attention, and then quickly examined the package from which they had been taken. It was an old bundle which had been in his rooms prior to his disappearance.
"Ah, Marjorie, the secret is out at last," he suddenly cried. "This explains all. See, it was no part of Kumar's plot, but an accident, pure and simple, something which might not happen once in a million times; but happening as it did, created the phenomena which so puzzled and misled all of you.
"In some way a pinhole pricked in the covering of the package allowed the light to penetrate for a second when the door of the dark room chanced to be opened, and as I happened to stand in range at that moment, my image was impressed on every plate. Before the plates were utterly ruined, however, the door must have been closed, and a second exposure prevented by the aperture being covered in some equally accidental manner."
Marjorie breathed a soft little sigh as the memory of those days came back to her.
"Poor Oliver Ditson," was the only comment she made.
"Yes, poor Ditson," returned Farthingale regretfully. "He was one more of the many nameless heroes who have sacrificed their lives in order that the great American public may find something startling to read about in its morning paper."
Roy Glashan's Library
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